Patient Education Update

Vol 4. No. 3

by Dr. Dorothy L. Smith, President, Consumer Health Information Corporation. Visit our web site at

For 20 years, Consumer Health Information Corporation has specialized in helping product teams integrate patient education into their marketing strategies …. and enhance ROI through patient retention.

The consumer will be the final judge of all the marketing materials you produce for them. Once consumers and patients understand the information being given to them and believe that it is important to their own personal health, the health care system will start working as it should … and I can guarantee that a product’s ROI will increase.


A common misconception that many product managers have is that they think the most important goal in developing a Patient Package Insert (PPI) or other patient materials is to get the readability level down to the grade 6-8 level. But getting the readability down to this level is no guarantee the consumer will be able to understand it.

I recently shared this concern at a Drug Information Association (DIA) meeting in New York, where I joined a panel of FDA experts and representatives of a major advertising agency and public relations firm to explore the topic, “New Ways To Promote … Marketing of Pharmaceuticals: How To Be Aggressive and In Compliance.” I had been asked to evaluate DTC ads and patient education materials from the consumer’s perspective.

One of the examples I used to describe the difference between readability and comprehension is the recommendation sometimes given to a patient to “avoid eating red meat.” While “red meat” is a phrase that would pass a readability test at the grade 4 level, it still will not be understood by many consumers.

Why? Many consumers simply don’t know which meats are classified as “red meat”. After all, once red meat is cooked, it is no longer red. The product team needs to make sure that consumers know which meats they are talking about. There are many more examples of seemingly simple terms that will not be understood by patients unless they are clearly explained.

The point is that there is a vast difference between readability and comprehension. We have to remember that it’s more complicated than just using short words.

For more on whether the information you provide helps or hinders your marketing goals, check here:


Developing messages for consumers and patients on medications requires a very specialized blending of medical information, regulatory requirements, marketing techniques, health literacy principles, patient compliance strategies, and behavior modification techniques… then translating everything into language the average consumer can understand … and reinforcing it with an effective “patient-friendly” design.

Even though a DTC campaign or a patient information program has met all the requirements of the company’s clinical, marketing, legal and regulatory teams as well as the FDA regulations, it can NEVER be maximally effective if the consumer does not understand the information.

A similar parallel can be drawn to surgery. When a physician decides that a patient needs surgery because the benefits outweigh the risks, the surgeon does not begin the discussion by presenting the risks of dying while in surgery. This is important, of course – but at the proper time – for the patient to know. But if all surgeons began their initial explanations that way, very few people would ever opt for surgery even if they clearly need it.

Consumer Health Information Corporation’s experts in patient compliance and consumer behavior know how to develop “consumer-friendly” materials that motivate patients to take the medication correctly. Only then can the product fulfill its potential.

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Many patients have never considered that the efficacy of their prescription medications will decrease if they do not take the medication correctly. For example, if a medication is 90% effective in treating a condition, but the patient takes only 50% of the prescribed number of doses, the efficacy or “usefulness” of that medication falls to 45%.

When patients receive information they can believe and understand, they start to take their medications correctly and refill their prescriptions on time. Your product gets the chance to demonstrate its effectiveness.

For more on how patient compliances affects your ROI, check here:


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