Taking a different approach with patient handouts

August 10, 2011

A recent CDC blog seeks to educate Americans on how to prepare for emergencies in a unique way. This physician suggests patient education should also be interesting as well as interactive, effective, and presented in multiple formats (instead of solely providing medical handouts).

On a CDC blog (who knew those at the CDC were bloggers?) a blogger posted "Preparedness 101: zombie apocalypse" (http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/).

This entry seeks to educate the American people on how to best prepare for emergencies of all kinds. The message that you can take steps to save your life and your loved ones fails to resonate even in the wake of deadly hurricanes, tornadoes, and other cataclysms.

The CDC points out that in many forms of zombie fiction, becoming a zombie happens by acquisition of a medical condition known as ataxic neurodegenerative satiety deficiency syndrome. Of course, we'll have to keep in mind that writing patient handouts from the standpoint of how to treat a zombie's infection may stigmatize and not come across well. Although patients might appreciate the irony that prion-related illnesses or radiation can change people into zombies, they might not take too well to the association with their own real-life condition. However, the point is that story-telling or entertaining writing may be highly effective in some handouts.

Many patients don't seem to get much out of handouts, or even one-on-one education. It doesn't always matter that a handout, a certified dietitian, or a physician takes the time to explain in simple terms a condition, its history, treatment options, and prognosis. In this entertainment-mad world we live in, it just isn't enough. Too often, patients who have undergone repeated education by several members of a multidisciplinary team still respond to a simple restatement of facts with a zombie-like look of incomprehension.