Here’s how the typical patient visit ends in my experience. I tell the patient, say an individual presenting with cervical lymphadenopathy, that their tests have come back negative (CBC, rapid strep etc.) and the ‘mass’ in their neck is likely a benign, inflamed lymph node. It should go away within a week but if it doesn’t they must be sure to follow-up as rarely their symptoms can be a sign of something more serious- like cancer. The patient acknowledges understanding, goes home and immediately forgets everything I have told them.
Then, while later trying to recall my instructions, they search WebMD for some direction and end up calling back worried they are dying of lymphoma. I need better patient handouts.
I don’t blame patients for not recalling my explanations and instructions. Do you think I processed any of the information iterated to me by the mechanic the last time my car broke down? Nope. My last one-on-one at the Apple store was a bust. I forgot a paper and pen (I’m not sure these are actually allowed and am certain they are not encouraged in the Apple store), walked out after my session and immediately forgot every last thing about photo editing. No, I don’t blame patients for their call backs with questions about their diagnoses and treatment. I blame myself.
As busy NP’s most of us don’t have time to create our own patient information resources. Where can we go to get printouts for our patients giving them further information about their medical conditions? I have scoured the web and come up with a few good patient education resources.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers excellent information for parents of pediatric patients. Their handouts are simple yet informative and available to download or print quickly from your computer. The site also contains audio files if your patients prefer to simply look up the information and listen to it at home. As an added bonus, most of their resources are available in both English and Spanish.
2. MedLine Plus
MedLine Plus contains a large number of succinct descriptions of medical diagnoses and treatments you can easily print and distribute to your patients. Should your patients wish to do further research on their diagnosis at home, MedLine would be a good place to start. MedLine posts links with additional, more in depth information if patients wish to go to their website for further information. Most information is also available in Spanish- a big help for those of us who fumble our way through non-English patient visits.
3. Merck Manual Home Health Handbook
The Merck Manual provides the perfect patient information describing illnesses and their treatments as well as including photos of many diagnoses. This information is easy to print and distribute to patients in your clinic. The Merck Manual, however does not give follow-up instructions such as ‘make sure you seek medical attention if you develop a fever’ so you must be sure to give these instructions on your own.
4. Family Doctor.org
Sponsored by the AAFP, FamilyDoctor.org offers simple information on a wealth of medical conditions describing their symptoms, causes, tests and treatment. Not technically designed to be given to patients by providers, the disease descriptions on FamilyDoctor.org can still be a good resource for your patients to provide a bit more information about their diagnosis. Unfortunately, they are not available in Spanish.
Patient handouts are not a substitute for good verbal follow-up instructions or for spending time with your patients counseling them about their diagnoses and treatment options. But, providing quality, reliable information to your patients an serve to help them recall instructions you have given.
Do you have any good patient handout resources you use in your practice? Please share!