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Use Patient Education Handouts to Improve Medication Compliance

Patient Education Handouts

The fast-paced society in which we live makes it difficult to remember even the simplest details of our lives—what we had for dinner last night or what we needed to pick up at the store. It’s not surprising then that patients have a difficult time recalling complex medication instructions their physician provides during an appointment. It can be overwhelming to say the least.

In fact, after an appointment, 15% of patients recall information erroneously or not at all while 36% recall it only when prompted, according to a recent study. An inability to remember what was discussed during a medical appointment is particularly problematic for patients taking prescribed medications. Three out of every four Americans don’t take their medications as prescribed, and forgetfulness is one reason why. This lack of recall makes it paramount for physicians to provide patient education handouts that clearly and succinctly remind patients of why they take certain medications (i.e., for what problems/diagnoses) as well as medication regimens, dosing, potential side effects, and more. This is especially true for patients on medication to treat major depression, anxiety disorders, asthma, schizophrenia, and coronary heart disease for which medication noncompliance is highest.

Educational handouts are particularly helpful for patients on complex medication regimens. For example, they may take one pill in the morning and two at night or take Pill A on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Pill B on Tuesday and Thursday. They may also need to take certain medications with food. Having it written down helps improve medication compliance tremendously.

Handouts can also help patients stay organized when multiple physicians prescribe medications. Fifty three percent of patients who take prescription drugs receive them from more than one provider. Educational handouts can help patients remember not only when and how to take a medication but also the person who prescribed it. In the event that questions or concerns arise, it’s easy to identify the right person to contact.

In addition, there may not be enough time during a short visit to talk at length about medication regimens and side effects. Unfortunately, when physicians don’t provide additional resources that patients can reference as needed—either written handouts, electronic handouts, or even links to educational videos—patients may lack confidence in their ability to properly take new medications as directed.

When creating a patient educational handout for medication compliance, consider including the following details:

  • Full name of the medication (including its generic and brand names)
  • Patient-specific dose
  • When and how often to take it
  • Reason for taking it
  • Potential side effects (and what to do if they occur)
  • Prescriber’s name and contact information
  • General tips for medication compliance (e.g., set an alarm or use a pillbox or mobile app)

Also keep these tips in mind:

  • Provide the educational material in multiple languages, if possible.
  • Use one or more reputable sources as a basis for the handout. Examples include an FDA-approved medication guide, the American Family Physician, and Medline Plus. These resources answer questions such as: What is this drug and what does it do? What are the risks involved in taking this drug? What are the possible side effects? Who shouldn’t take this drug? What ingredients are in this medication? What other important information do patients need to know about this medication? There are also a variety of other free resources available online that physicians can tailor to their patient populations; however, all information should be vetted for accuracy.
  • Keep it simple. For example, use lists or mnemonic devices such as catchy abbreviations or simple rhymes. Medical communications consultant Thomas Lang provides several other helpful tips to construct a patient education handout. Remember that 36% of adults have basic or below basic health literacy, meaning they aren’t always able to obtain, read, understand, and use healthcare information to make appropriate health decisions and follow instructions. The simpler, the better—and the more likely patients will read the handout and follow through with the instructions.

If physicians don’t want to design their own handouts, there are other options. For example, some electronic health records (EHR) may already include some of these educational resources, and physicians can either print them or send them electronically directly to the patient’s portal. Life science reps may also be able to provide physicians with patient educational materials such as pamphlets, DVDs, wallet-size reference cards, and more. Finally, providers can pay for access to handouts that they can customize and print at the point of care. The Patient Education Reference Center, for example, includes more than 1,300 unique drugs. Handouts are available in English and Spanish with the option to upgrade and access handouts in an additional 15 languages.

Be sure to ask a nurse or care coordinator to review the education handout with the patient, highlighting the most important points. Make sure patients have sufficient time to ask questions, and be sure to use the teach-back method where patients repeat what they heard and understood so any misunderstandings can be addressed.

Regardless of how providers approach the topic of patient education handouts for medication compliance, the most important point to remember is that these resources are an extension of the clinical care provided. When designed correctly, handouts can greatly enhance patients’ abilities to follow through with taking medications as prescribed. This, in turn, improves outcomes and reduces costs related to preventable hospitalizations and readmissions.

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