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Patient Information


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Patient Information


What is it and how can it help me?

Good patient information is important as it can:

  • Help to ensure that patients arrive on time and are properly prepared
  • Give patients confidence, improving their overall experience
  • Remind patients of what they have already been told (in case they have forgotten)
  • Involve patients and carers in their treatment and condition

This tool gives you guidance on writing information about conditions, treatments, procedures, examinations, surgery and services. It doesn't tell you ‘what' to write, but ‘how' by highlighting points about writing style. It also makes links to checklists relevant in specific clinical settings.

When does it work best?

Good patient information ensures that patients are fully aware of the next step in their pathway and are able to plan ahead.

You can reduce DNAs and cancelled procedures and operations by ensuring that the patient has certain information:

  • When and where their appointment is
  • How to get to there
  • Any prior information relating to the procedure or treatment eg no drinks containing caffeine before a nuclear medicine heart scan

How to use it

When you are writing information for patients, write from their point of view and assume little knowledge of the subject. The exception to this is the ‘expert patient' who has a long-term medical condition.

Style of writing

  • Use everyday language. Avoid jargon and acronyms. Use plain language but be aware that childish language can be patronising
  • Use patient-friendly text. Use personal pronouns such as ‘we' and ‘you'. If it is difficult to avoid using medical terminology, such as ‘nuclear medicine', explain what it means
  • Be relevant to individual patients
  • Information should be in context with other information ie letters and leaflets
  • Reinforce the information that patients have been told at the clinic
  • Explain instructions eg why a patient shouldn't eat for six hours
  • Help people make decisions by giving them facts about risks, side effects and benefits
  • Do not confuse people by covering several treatments and conditions in the same leaflet
  • Tell people what other information, support and resources are available
  • Be up to date. Give the most recent practice and latest phone numbers
  • Let people know if information is available in other formats

To make text more accessible, use the following:

  • Short sentences - in general no more than 15 to 20 words long
  • Lower-case letters where possible, as they are easier to read
  • Present and active tenses - ie ‘your appointment is on...' not ‘your appointment has been made for...'
  • A question and answer format to divide up blocks of text
  • Bullet or numbered points to divide up complicated information
  • Small blocks of text.
  • White space which makes the information easier to read
  • Large bold font to emphasise text best. Avoid upper case letters, italics and underlining
  • Minimum font size of 12
  • Labelled diagrams and pictures where appropriate to illustrate the text. Clip art will not create a professional finish, use images and picture from the NHS photo library.
  • Avoid over-photocopying which leads to reduced quality of text
How to go about producing written information

You may find it helpful to use ‘small scale tests of change' when writing patient information. Try using the guidance as a checklist if you suspect communication to patients is one of the causes of delay.

The planning stage

  • Identify who needs to be involved and how you keep them involved
  • Identify the need for specific information from patients, carers or clinicians
  • Check what other relevant information already exists in the organisation, from other sources such as NHS Direct or charitable organisations
  • Consider how information will be distributed ie on a rack, handed to the patient, posted or e-mailed? Also, who takes responsibility for this?
  • Identify resource requirements. ‘The NHS toolkit for producing patient information' suggests that core funding is a sensible way of organising the distribution of leaflets as it can be more cost-effective to print leaflets rather than photocopy them

The writing stage
We recommend that you use the small test of change cycles(Plan, Do, Study, Act) to help you develop patient information.

  • Is it easy to read? Check your draft against the guidance. Make changes. Produce another draft. Check it with members of your team. Do rapid cycles of testing until it seems easy to read
  • Is it right? Produce another draft and check it with colleagues, clinicians, experts, patient support groups. Consider secretaries and booking staff. If you are sending it to someone, always specify a deadline for them to feedback to you
  • Is it good for patients? Check it with patients or with people in the hospital who are not familiar with the topic area

Final checks

  • Ensure information doesn't conflict with other information eg appointment letters and other partners in the NHS
  • Contact phone numbers by phoning them
  • Use general names for local contacts, for example, ‘cardiac rehabilitation nurse'
  • Use general drug names, for example, ‘paracetamol' not ‘Panadol'

The consultation stage or sign off

  • Ask patients to assess the information through patient groups
  • Give a final draft to interested parties setting a deadline for response

The distribution stage

  • Make sure patients receive information at an appropriate time, not half an hour before a procedure or when they are in shock
  • Monitor how the information is used. For example, is it handed out and by whom? Is it used for the intended purpose?

To help with writing particular types of patient information, there are four checklists included in the resource guide that focus on:

  • Information about operations
  • Conditions and treatments
  • Services, e.g. cardiac rehabilitation classes or a GP skin clinic
  • Medication for patients

Examples

Weston Area Healthcare developed a new approach to providing information for relatives and carers. A survey carried out in a medical ward highlighted that patient/relative information concerning ward times and direct dial numbers was poor.

In response to this an information card was developed to give out to all relatives and carers. This includes basic information about where their relative is in hospital, the ward name, address, direct telephone number and in some case, visiting hours.

On the back of the card, the name of their consultant and ward round is given. Although the Trust has not formally evaluated the impact of the information card patients and relatives frequently comment that it is very useful. The business card style adopted seems to prevent loss of the card and it is more professional than the scrap of paper that were used in the past. The cards are printed off site and cost approximately £170 for a pack of 4000 cards. In surveys since the introduction of the card the results for patient information have improved.

What next?

Not only does good patient information improve the quality of the patient experience it can be used as a way of reducing DNAs and patient initiated cancellations

Additional resources

Further information, including general advice on writing for different patient groups and presenting patient information can be found in the full toolkit.

Patient UK Provides comprehensive, free, up-to-date health information as provided by GPs to patients during consultations

The Picker Institute good practice database

Background

Improving information for patients was a commitment in the NHS Plan (July 2000 Chapter 10) and part of the recommendations in the Kennedy Report into the Bristol Royal Infirmary (July 2001, Section 2, Chapter 23). 

The guidelines have been taken from a toolkit developed by the NHS Identity website with the Patient Information Forum, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Plain English Campaign.

Acknowledgements / sources

NHS Identity

Picker Institute

© Copyright NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement 2008

 
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