A Reader Responds to "Passive Dissemination of Printed Educational Materials in Medicine Has No or Negligible Effect on Patient Outcomes"

Sue Robb, MBChB, BSc


January 08, 2009

To the Editor:

The use of printed patient material has been a tool that I have used for 30 years in practice. Although I have only anecdotal results to back me up, I have dealt with many thousand patients in that time, and I always follow up with printed material on subsequent visits. My personal observations:

Passive dissemination is useless. It is as effective to give away blank paper. At an early stage in my practice, we gave patients preprinted handouts, prepared by other doctors or by pharmaceutical companies. Almost without exception, when patients were asked on a subsequent visit how they had managed to assimilate the written material, there had been no attempt to read it.

Compliance in reading and understanding the material increased when the doctor personally handed the patient the written material, although pharmaceutical company material was still rarely read.

Compliance was the highest when the printed material was:

  • Written by a doctor within the practice. We presumed this because the information was based on the practice's viewpoint on the information supplied;

  • On lightly colored paper. The assumption was that colored paper was easier to find on a table among other mail on white paper; and

  • Highlighted [by the practitioner, with] more relevant text within the material in front of the patient.

When the printed material was given in this active way vs simple passive dissemination, subsequent visits with the patient showed that a majority of the patients were familiar with the contents of the printed handouts, were more responsive to lifestyle changes and to medication use where necessary, and were better able to report on treatment outcomes.

My personal experience: Active dissemination of material is an extremely useful tool; passive dissemination is dangerously useless.

Sue Robb, MBChB, BSc

Editor's Note:
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