Medical writers know that writing in a clear, easy-to-understand manner is necessary when preparing materials for the lay public. But medical writers may underestimate the contribution clearly written patient-education materials can make to the health literacy and health status of the patients who read the materials they create.
The US government initiative, Healthy People 2010, defines health literacy as, “The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” A recent study examined the impact of health literacy on individuals’ health status and health care utilization. The results support the need for user-friendly materials that communicate health information in simple language with simple instructions and illustrations. For medical writers interested in breaking into the niche of writing patient-education materials, these data validate the necessity of writing clearly and concisely.
Researchers interviewed 489 elderly Medicare recipients with high school educations, most of whom were female (78.7%) and Black (59.1%). The investigators measured subjects’ health literacy with a tool known as the Short Test of Functional Health Literacy in Adults (S-TOFHLA). In addition, researchers asked questions about chronic diseases, exercise, nutrition, and health responsibility; screening tests; and medication compliance to examine so-called intermediate factors that may link health literacy and health status and health care utilization. These factors include:
The investigators found direct and positive links between health literacy and self-reported health status, and direct and negative links to hospitalization and emergency department use. In other words, subjects who were more health literate reported better health status and used hospital services less frequently than those who were less health literate. These results led researchers to suggest that improving health literacy may be a way to improve health status and reduce hospital and emergency department use among the elderly.
Source: Effects of health literacy on health status and health service utilization amongst the elderly, by Young Ik Cho, PhD; Shoou-Yih D. Lee, PhD; Ahsan M. Arozulla, MD; and Kathleen S. Crittenden, PhD, in Social Science and Medicine. 2008;66:1809-1816.
Have you ever wondered whether any patients actually read the patient-education materials you prepare? When you’re holed up in your office working on a project, it’s easy to lose perspective and start questioning the value of what you write. Research shows, though, that patient-education materials do improve patients’ health status.
The results of a study of patients who had heart attacks show that direct-to-patient mailings can help them stick with their beta-blocker regimens once they’re discharged from the hospital. Patients in 4 health-maintenance organizations (HMOs) who had heart attacks received 2 separate mailings that explained why they needed to take beta-blockers after discharge, detailed the risks of not taking the medications, and provided information on the adverse effects associated with these agents. Patients who received these mailings were more likely to take their medications than those who did not receive these materials, showing that yes, indeed, the patient-education materials we create do make a difference.
Source: A randomized trial of direct-to-patient communication to enhance adherence to beta-blocker therapy following myocardial infarction, by David H. Smith, RPh, PhD; Judith M. Kramer, MD, MS; Nancy Perrin PhD; and colleagues in Archives of Internal Medicine. 2008;168(5):477-483.
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