You’re succeeding in helping others as an occupational therapist —finally! Happy Dance!
People are getting results.
And it doesn’t hurt when your clients sing your praises.
Even better, your patients are referring friends and family to you.
When it comes to client-centered care, you are a boss!
But, can we talk about your patient handouts?
You repeat yourself all the time. Or, you’ve painstakingly created detailed patient handouts to educate your clients better.
Have you considered if your client understands the handouts that you’re giving them?…
- Have you considered the format?
- Patients with lower reading levels?
- Is English your client’s first language?
- Do clients follow the directions on the handouts?
As a copywriter and former public school teacher, I’m the perfect person to give you tips and pointers. Here’s why, as a teacher, I had to create student handouts on multiple levels to reach all the students in my classroom.
Every year I taught, I had at least six years between the lowest and highest reading levels in one classroom. And now, as a copywriter, I create one piece of copy, but I still aim for 3rd to 5th-grade readability.
Can I share a not-so-secret fact with you? When it comes to the average reading level in the United States, it is around late 3rd grade. HERE is a case study you may be interested in about the readability of patient handouts.
This is similar to your mission as an occupational therapist. You are educating overwhelmed patients. You want clients to understand and TAKE action. Whether that means understanding their diagnosis or following through on recommendations, you want explicit, concise handouts for patients to refer back to at home.
Today, I want to take a deep dive into things to think about when creating your patient-centered handouts.
Here’s the plan:
- How Can You Use Images and Diagrams?
- Focus on Simplicity and Clarity
- Play to Your Audience
- What is Chunking?
- Build a Patient Resource Library
How Can You Use Images and Diagrams in your patient handout?
A picture is worth a thousand words, right?
Visual elements such as diagrams, charts, and images will enhance understanding. Visuals can often convey information more efficiently than lengthy written descriptions.
A great resource to do this is Canva. You may already have a free account. If you don’t, please promise me you will sign up for one before bed tonight. It is one of those “can’t live without it” tools.
Also, consider how sharp the image is and the size. A person with a visual impairment may be unable to see what is happening. That will cause frustration and not wanting to complete the exercises at home. This may seem small, but it might be the difference in your client doing the movements correctly.
Focus on Simplicity and Clarity:
Above all else, use clear and concise language to explain the information.
Here are some of the top ways:
- Break down complex concepts into easily digestible sections or bullet points.
- Avoid long paragraphs which feel like overwhelming walls of text.
- Limit the amount of OT jargon you use.
- Define any terminology using simple everyday language your client will understand
Believe me, I love to write. And I love words. But in copywriting —clear trumps clever every time!
Here’s a tip! Ask someone not in the OT world to read your handout. Then ask them to share with you what questions they have about the topic. This feedback will show you where it became fuzzy. You can focus on clarifying those key points to make the handout clear.
And check out this extra resource that goes further into how to format your content for clarity.
Play to Your Audience
Determine your target audience’s level of knowledge and familiarity with the topic on your handout. You can tailor the content to match their understanding and avoid using complex medical jargon.
Pretend you are talking to a 3rd grader. Would they understand what you are trying to say?
If not, then, you need to rewrite it.
Remember, the ultimate goal of a handout is to help your patients. A concise handout is more accessible for individuals with reading difficulties, language barriers, or cognitive impairments. It allows for easier comprehension and promotes inclusivity in healthcare communication.
What is Chunking?
Here is another “teacher-y” word for you: chunking concepts.
What are chunking concepts? It’s just like it sounds. You are decomposing a concept to simplify it. Helping it fit together in the human brain.
For example, let’s pretend that you are a 7th-grade Science teacher and you teaching a unit on the 11 body systems. That is the end goal.
Ideally, you would teach one body system per day. Using a consistent learning pattern.
- Show a quick video on it.
- Give some sketch notes.
- Have the students use color to make a diagram in their notes.
- Finish with a vocab game on Kahoot or some other gamified platform.
The next day, different body system, same format. Pretty simple, right? It is backed by science. You can check out this article HERE.
How can you apply this to making handouts?
First, start with the end in mind. What is the big idea or concept that you want them to understand?
Next, you don’t want to put more than two unrelated concepts per handout. You also want to ensure that the handouts are concise to make it easier for the patient to understand.
Depending on the complexity, you may want to consider only 1 concept per handout. This will ensure that your clients are not overwhelmed. Thus, eliminating a feeling of defeat and, in turn, giving up.
In the end, you are setting them up for success. In fact, research has shown that less IS MORE. It turns out that only 2 exercises are the ideal number of exercises on a home program. Any more than that and people get overwhelmed and do follow the instructions.
Build a Patient Resouce Library
What is a patient resource library? I am glad that you asked. It is a place where all your handouts will live. Be thoughtful in how you build your resource library over time and you’ll save time and be able to hand patients high-quality information.
Using the same simple formatting on each handout will further entice your patients to read more.
And great news! These resources can even be repurposed to support the marketing efforts of your clinic. This could be linked to a weekly newsletter or repurposed into a blog. The information could even be used to educate your followers on social media.
1. Items you compile in the library will save you time by allowing you to plug in the concepts in the same order every time. Updates? Piece of cake; it’s saved in your Google Drive. You can maximize your output while minimizing your effort. Effort that you could be using in other parts of your practice. After all, isn’t that the dream?
2. Follow-up resources: For patients who are interested in diving deeper into a topic, this would be a great way to add websites, online articles, or other places that can help them get a deeper understanding of the topic.
A Few Parting Thoughts to Inspire Your Patient Handout Creation…
In the end, applying these principles to making patient handouts will create a clear and concise line of communication. It will also be another way you are a rockstar for your patients and differentiate the level of patient-centered care that you are offering in your practice.
And guess what? That’s right, Jenny has created a freebie for you!
Carena Ennis is a veteran teacher turned copywriter. She used to help young writers find their voices and tell unique stories. Now, she helps online entrepreneurs find their brand voices and attract dream customers. You can visit and follow her writing journey on Instagram @sangertexaslocallygrown