Functional and Handsome—Patient Instructions for Better Patient Recall

Steve Graepel, Visual Strategist

Helping people make better health decisions. The Healthwise mission is resolute and we’ve exemplified these words for over 40 years through medically accurate and patient-centered content. But learning is so much more than reading and remembering words on the page, and our clients understand this.

Twice a year we ask our clients to share what they think about Healthwise products and services. A familiar tension bubbles up: on one hand, we receive accolades for our award-winning content. On the other, we know we need to continually improve our products. Client surveys revealed that the design of our Patient Instructions (PIs) needed a little shine.

So our product design team dug in. PIs help teach patients to better care for themselves and their families. Giving some visual-design TLC to these tools could make this information even easier for people to understand and recall when they need it most. And it could reduce the chance the instructions would be lost in a pile of discharge paperwork and go unread.

The Best Gets Better

Clinicians were looking for ways to start conversations with patients and call out the key learning objectives listed on our PIs. Enhancing the visual design of these tools could help engage a patient with the topic and guide their focus.

Any changes had to fit within the systems where PIs are used. EMR systems differ, and our content must be flexible enough to work with any of them. We drafted a handful of prototypes that followed our criteria and then shared them with clients for feedback.

Case in point: our first idea was a single-page line drawing. Patients were hungry for a visual discussion and physicians struggled to comply. Third-party posters, medical models, X-rays, sketches on the bed sheets—we found that physicians were hacking a number of ideas to visually describe to patients what their proposed course of action would be. This inspired us to create high-value, black-and-white line drawings, designed expressly for clinicians to draw on and help communicate to patients what was going on in their bodies, as it relates to their diagnosis and treatments. Feedback on these anatomy sketches has been overwhelmingly positive by clinicians.

Next, we turned our attention toward making the key learning objectives in Patient Instructions “stickier” with patients. PIs typically run 1 to 2 pages long, and have a few underlying need-to-know facts. Facts that help patients avoid issues like cancelling procedures, delaying treatments, or worse—complications that can cause patients harm.

Visually enhancing patient instructions increases recall by up to 35%, according to the National Institute of Health. We knew we couldn’t rely solely on text to convey the message because key takeaways could easily get lost on the page. So, through formatting, we gave the page some breathing room, and added some white space and line breaks to relax the eye and add visual hierarchy to the page. We also developed and standardized icons to serve as visual signposts to draw attention to the most important points.

Our challenge was twofold. Functionally, we sought to increase patient recall, especially around key points. Aesthetically, we wanted our PIs to look more modern. And our user testing showed that with these simple changes, we met the challenge. People responded to the visually enhanced PIs this way:

  • 94% preferred them.
  • 88% found them to be more helpful.
  • 96% said they’d be more likely to read them.

Our user test results also revealed that 91% of participants indicated it was important that doctors provide information like this, and 88% said that having information like this provided to them would make them more satisfied with their care.

People said things like, “A picture makes a difference! Same information but seems more current to have visuals,” and “I like the photo, it reminds me of the feeling of hope.”

The Future of Visual Content is Bright

The product development cycle is never really done at Healthwise. We employ client feedback, user testing, and consumer and clinician input. We continually test and fine-tune our designs, discover and build better products, and ensure our clients can reach their goals. Product designers strive to create products that people can learn from and love; sometimes this can be achieved through words, and other times through images. As a visual strategist, I navigate between these two worlds, pushing content that is visually approachable and tells a compelling story that words alone can’t quite muster. Have feedback? Got an idea? We invite you to speak up! Healthwise is listening.