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How do the principles of clear health communication apply to written communication?
Most adults, regardless of education level, want health care information that is easy to read and understand. The Pfizer Principles for Clear Health Communication, developed in partnership with leading health literacy experts Leonard and Cecilia Doak, provide guidelines for sharing written health information in a way that is accessible to a broad consumer audience.
The principles include the following:
Explain the purpose and limit the content
- This involves explaining, from patients’ viewpoints, why the content is important and what key topics will be covered.
- Leaving out unnecessary content helps keep the focus on what patients want to know.
Involve the reader
- Written materials should engage the reader by emphasizing desired patient actions and behaviors. Asking the reader to write down action steps or questions creates interaction with the written materials.
- Making the document content and design appropriate to patients’ culture, age, and gender also enhances reader engagement.
Make it easy to read
- Patient materials should be written in plain language. Writing in short sentences and using common words instead of medical jargon improves readability. Readability calculators are available to estimate the reading grade level of the text. Patient education materials should be written at about a 6th grade level.
- Other aspects of the writing style can also make documents easier to read. When writing, we should use a conversational style with active voice. Breaking up complex topics is helpful. Providing examples for difficult words and concepts makes the information easier to understand.
Make it look easy to read
- Well-designed patient education materials use headings to organize information. They also include adequate white space to break up the density of the text.
- Choosing the type style is also important. Avoid reverse type, all caps, and italics. Choose colors that provide a sharp contrast, and use large type (14 point), especially when writing for elderly patients.
Select visuals that clarify and motivate
- Culturally appropriate visual images can draw patients in. They are also important for explaining concepts, but visuals with excessive detail can be distracting.