Patient information leaflets that are easy to read, communicate the main point clearly and effectively, and are relevant to the intended audience are critical for enhancing patient understanding of an intervention and expediting obtainment of patient consent, according to an editorial published in the BMJ. Enlisting the help of children to provide suggestions for wording could help improve the readability of these leaflets.

Using 6 National Health Service patient information leaflets distributed across England, the investigators found that the average readability age of patient leaflets is 17 years, which exceeds the average reading age of 9 years in the United Kingdom.

Therefore, the researchers suggest patient leaflets, particularly those that are describing patient anatomy, surgical complications, and the procedure itself, should be simplified to generate better understanding among patients of all educational backgrounds.

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In addition to improving readability by breaking down complex topics into easy-to-read and approachable language, the investigators suggest the content of patient leaflets should be honest and should drive home the main message as much as possible.

To gain a better idea of how this language should read, the researchers suggest taking cues from children and how they communicate to others. The researchers recommend enlisting the help of children around 9 years of age to read through written leaflets and provide suggestions for wording.

Improving the language barrier in patient leaflets may then help improve patient satisfaction and compliance. No matter the method of communicating scientific knowledge to patients, the investigators conclude that “our duty as clinicians is to ensure that patients have all the facts in a format that is easily digestible.”

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Wigley C, Bucknall V, Fleming S. Santa’s little helpers: a novel approach to developing patient information leaflets. BMJ. 2017;359:j5565.