Personalized patient handouts provide support

March 10, 2012

Handouts can help patients with a myriad of problems. See why the personalized touch can make them even more effective.

Key Points

Patient handouts are everywhere. Everyone's practice is different, however. Your patients are your patients because they like you.

You don't have to be a professional writer to generate your own patient information sheets. You know your patients. You know their problems.

I have a computer in my office and a legal pad on a counter in the exam room, and that's where I write notes about handouts that are needed and comments from patients. It's easy to jot a quick note during a patient visit. I check them every couple of days and use them to change old handouts or create new ones.

Let's start with an example. What's a problem that many patients have in your practice? In ours, it's obesity. No surprise there.

I spend a lot of time talking to patients, but telling people to lose weight just doesn't work. Many try commercial weight loss programs and don't stick with them or lack the time or money these programs require.

ASK FOR A FOOD DIARY

I have learned to initially approach overweight and obese patients by talking about keeping a food diary. Just mention food diary and you first will hear a groan. But then I say, "Just give me 1 week. That's all. Do it for me. Just 1 week."

We used to give patients a form we devised, but at the end of the day, we more often than not found it in the circular file. Now we tell our patients to keep a diary in whatever way is easiest for them. It can be on scratch paper, in a notebook, on their palm-whatever works. When patients return to the office, we make a copy of their diary, so they have a copy and I have one, too. We then can go over it together.

We do give patients a handout with some guidelines for their food diaries (see figure 1). This handout has evolved thanks to feedback from my patients. At first, I told them to keep a diary of everything they ate and how much. But when a patient said, "I eat if I'm bored," I added "why you eat" to the handout. This addition prompted a discussion about what this patient could do instead of eating when she was bored. Some options that came out of that discussion:

This comment led to a discussion about mindful eating. The notes that went into my legal yellow pad about mindful eating included: "Stop. Think. Are you hungry?" The patient said the answer to this question usually was no, so we had him take a drink of water and then wait 30 minutes. If he still was hungry after 30 minutes, then he would allow himself to eat. More than 90% of the time, the urge to eat had passed after 30 minutes, and he was doing something else.