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Patient Education Design: It goes beyond just words and pictures

Regardless whether the patient education material is digital, print, or multimedia, there are guidelines and common attributes that will make them more effective.

Patient education materials are not merely the means of having the patient read information about their health condition. Properly designed patient education materials require a multi-faceted approach that enables the patient to read, listen, analyze, and make proper health decisions and to be given the skills that lead to improved health-related behaviors. Their unique health outcomes can vary significantly on an individual basis, but the overall goal is the same – “Empower the Patient!

Real-World Usage

As health communicators, whether writers, designers, project managers, or community outreach professionals, we need to continuously remind ourselves and re-examine how the patient education tool will help patients in a variety of needs and situations. Examples would be:

  • The ability to understand instructions on prescriptions
  • The ability to negotiate the complexities of the healthcare system
  • The ability to understand health insurance terminology, appeals, and procedures
  • The ability to understand how to fill out consent forms, procedure forms, and other medical-related forms
  • The ability to have clear communication with their healthcare providers
  • The ability to understand what they need to do to improve their own individual health outcomes
Ability “enables an individual to perform a particular job or task successfully and, that task is taking control of their healthcare to the best of their ability.


If in printed form, the patient education tool needs to be designed and produced in sizes that are real-world convenient for the patient. An example would be wallet-size reference cards, bookmarks, pocket-size brochures and quick-reference guides that can be easily placed in a purse, glove compartment, nightstand drawer, or in a suitcase if traveling. In today’s mobile-first environment, the patient materials need to be in a digital format that is easily accessible and readable from any device. The messaging should never be altered when dealing with any constraints in the digital environment. Present navigation options, and clear language in the messaging both in text and visuals.

The correct approach is to address the reading level, the need for multiple languages, and designing and writing based on the appropriate patient needs, lifestyle, values, and environment. For example, would a specific patient education piece be helping a patient population in rural West Virginia or Westchester, New York?


Regardless of the platform, the patient education piece must use evidence-based, credible and include up-to-date medical information.


The design doesn’t have to suffer just because of the specific needs of best practices in designing a patient education tool. By keeping in mind the primary requirements that have been tested over and over again through countless focus groups, health literacy professionals, and health-care experts, your guidelines are clear.

First, the font size for the main body should typically be between 12-14 point depending on the font style used. Pay close attention to the relationship between the upper and lower case styles, the clarity of the characters is your priority. In earlier articles on health literacy design, we pointed out several other parameters that need to be taken into consideration.


Once your framework is determined, another very crucial design parameter is learning just how the patient education piece will be utilized.

  • Is this part of the dialogue between patient and healthcare provider during an office visit? 
  • Some patients may want a physical piece they can touch and engage with organically at home or work.
  • For the segment of the audience that is able to use technology, then the digital format needs to address the patient goals in design, writing, and structure.

Gilbert Velazquez (Health Literacy Designer).

Allow me to bring my medical and healthcare communication design experience to your next healthcare initiatives. I look forward to taking part as a health literacy designer to better serve “your” audience by helping them reach their goals to understand their own healthcare needs.

It is all about individuals taking control of their healthcare over time, and a health literacy designer can help. Call me at 732.996.6328 to learn more about what GV CERV Communications health literacy design and development services can do for your next communication challenge.

732.996.6328 (Mobile) • gvelazquez@gvcerv.com

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