10 steps to get your information into the hands of NHS patients Sarah Avent September 2009
Introduction GP surgeries and hospital waiting rooms are inundated with literature for patients to read every week; even information coming directly from the primary care trust (PCT), hospital trust or other healthcare provider may not make its way into a patient’s hand. With limited wall space for posters and holders for leaflets, you need to ensure your patient information has the best chance of being endorsed locally, in order to get it to those who should be reading it. There is no fail-safe way to get this right, but here’s 10 steps you can take to bolster your leaflet’s chance of becoming a well-thumbed read in the waiting room.
Step One Engage the marketing and communications team at the NHS trust If you’re targeting a particular region, hospital or PCT, you should tap the marketing and communications team for their NHS advice, knowledge and support. It’s more than likely they will be able to provide counsel and point you in the direction of key people you may need to engage with, when pulling your materials together. Find out how involved the trust wants to be and the breadth of the support they can offer.
Step Two Find out what information is currently available Find out what information in your area of interest is already out there, who produced it, and when. The trust’s marketing and communications team should be able to help you, if not, pick up the phone and ring around local GP practices or hospitals to see what’s currently in circulation. Also find out at what stage the patient receives the literature i.e. is it in the waiting room, directly from their GP or nurse, or from a consultant etc.
Step Three Fill the information gap and make it locally relevant Don’t reinvent the wheel; instead speak to a relevant healthcare professional to find out what information they believe is missing for their patients. Fill the gaps and replace information which is out of date. Consider including regional information, if your communication is targeting a particular trust, like specific contact numbers and addresses. If your one targeted leaflet can replace the existing five generic ones, you’ll be well on your way to getting it into the waiting room.
Step Four Whether you’re writing information for men or women, young people or old, you should always be ar in mind that unless your patient has a long-term medical condition and become a ‘patient-expert’, it is likely they will have little or no knowledge about what you are talking about. Use simple everyday language and avoid using jargon and acronyms to make information easy to understand. Remember that the average reading age in the UK is only eight. Consider your target audience
Step Five Make sure your information echoes wider NHS messages Having worked for an NHS trust, I was once asked for my opinion on a poster encouraging women to use alternative contraceptives to condoms and ‘the pill’, such as coils and injections; the headline on one poster read ‘Condoms keep letting you down?’. It was disheartening to learn that the NHS’s messages around safe sex and the importance of using a condom to prevent sexually transmitted diseases had not been given consideration. Always think in terms of the bigger NHS picture.
Step Six Get the formating and design right It’s a fact: the majority of people using NHS services are elderly, and it is more than likely they will be visually impaired. The NHS identity guidelines suggest using font size 12 for patient literature. Where possible use Frutiger font for patient literature to meet the NHS guidance and don’t write text over images or photographs, as this can be more difficult to read. Ask the NHS trust if they want to include their logo and branding on the literature, to gain additional endorsement. When considering print options, opt for a silk not gloss finish as again it is easier to read. For posters, it is generally best to print in A4, as there is limited room on NHS notice boards for A3 and above.
Step Seven Include the basics Pharma companies tend to include reference numbers and dates details on all of their materials. It is worthwhile including a reference number from trusts if you have partnered with them, as they tend to keep an audit of all patient literature. Where possible, include details of where patients can access more information, such as a website or relevant group or charity, and let practice staff know how to order further stocks. If you are printing leaflets, consider designing bespoke holders for them, containing contact details signposting on where to order more.
Step Eight Consider language or diability barriers Let patients know if the information you are providing is available in other formats, for example in Braille or on audiotape. You may also want to consider developing the information in alternative languages, depending on the regions where it is being distributed.
Step Nine Get it checked by patients The best way to ensure your information is relevant and can be easily understood is to actually ask them. Ask the trust’s marketing and communications team to put you in touch with a patient representative group; each trust should have one. Allow them two weeks to comment on your literature, prior to going to print, and take on board their comments where necessary. Out of courtesy, share the amended literature with them, and if comments have not been taken on board explain why.
Step Ten Consider the best distribution method The trust’s marketing and communications team may be able to advise you on the best distribution methods. Also, it is a good idea to ring ahead and let the practice manager at a GP surgery know to expect your delivery. Although it is time consuming, investing time in this activity could be the difference between your information remaining unopened in the surgery stock cupboard, or making its way into the hands of a patient.
10 steps to get your information into the hands of NHS patients Sarah Avent September 2009 For further information on this, or any other healthcare communications programme, please contact James Harper on [email_address]