Are printed medical brochures still useful—or just bad for the environment?

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published July 11, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • Even in the digital age, research shows that printed brochures for healthcare providers (HCPs) improve knowledge of rare and important adverse events and help reduce medication errors.

  • Patient education pamphlets can help people better understand their medical conditions. They can also help improve adherence with acute treatments.

  • The design of a patient brochure must be carefully considered, with new brochures tested among patients and other physicians. Downloadable templates are available.

Printed medical brochures are among those tried-and-true educational tools for physicians and patients alike. But in the digital age, one has to wonder: Are they still useful, or just a waste of paper? 

According to data cited by the EPA, 67.4 tons of paper and paperboard municipal solid waste were generated in 2018, of which 48 million tons were recycled—that's a recycling rate of 68.2%, the highest of any type of municipal solid waste.[]

Still, with the ability to download just about anything off the internet, are items such as printed pamphlets and brochures still relevant for medical providers and patients? Or are they just bad for the environment? Here's what the research says.

Brochures for medical providers

Results of a study published in Advances in Therapy pointed to the utility of brochures among healthcare providers (HCPs).[] Researchers sent a brochure to 565 participants about a target medicine, which 95% of the HCPs had already prescribed.

In total, 88 HCPs received the brochure, and 95.5% of these individuals at least skimmed it for main points. The HCPs were then given a quiz, with a passing grade of 4 out of 5 questions correct. Of those test takers who received the brochure, 93.2% passed, vs 57.6% of those who did not receive the brochure. 

The authors concluded that brochures are useful communication tools and could increase HCP understanding of rare and important adverse events.

In a Plos One systematic review and meta-analysis of 12 studies involving mostly nurses and residents, the investigators examined the impact of various pharmacist-led educational programs on medication-error rates.[] 

Multiple studies showed that brochures or training activities improved the knowledge and skills of HCPS, with four studies indicating a decrease in medication-error rates due to printed materials.

"Such brochures may be of particular use as part of risk minimization strategies in rapidly changing fields such as oncology, where HCPs need to deal with increasing[ly] complex medicines and protocols to treat cancers."

Authors, Advances in Therapy

Patient education pamphlets

In an extensive review published in Health Expectations, researchers found that in all clinical situations, patient-information leaflets (PILS) improved patient knowledge and satisfaction.[] With respect to acute treatments, the pamphlets also enhanced adherence. 

“PILs are considered to be very useful, especially for acute conditions where the patient is the first to suffer from lack of information,” they wrote.

Designing your brochures

Well-designed brochures can help to accomplish their objectives, whether the information is intended for patients, clinicians, or other audiences. Brochures can even be used to market medical practices.

Here are some tips from the Health Expectations authors for designing brochures intended for patients. The Association offers downloadable templates in addition to giving guidance on a process to follow when developing brochures.

  • Provide guidance on “what to do,” including lifestyle recommendations

  • Offer directions on missed doses

  • Use generic and not brand names to avoid sounding promotional

  • Make sure the brochure speaks to the reader and is targeted and culturally appropriate

  • Ensure it is logical and organized; avoid information overload in the form of busy figures or illustrations

  • Use % sign for frequencies, especially for risks

  • Test a draft with at least two physician colleagues and two patient users

  • Make the brochure available online

The authors also suggest providing sources for your information. Include the author of the brochure and date of publication. And be sure to regularly update the material, and include dates of update with each new version.

When designing a brochure for your own practice, the authors recommend the following: know your audience (eg, patients, referring physicians); decide how you will distribute the brochure (handouts vs mailings); find a local printing service after comparing various options; and ensure that the information included is clear and accurate.

What this means for you

Even in this digital age, brochures remain a useful tool to both HCPs and patients. HCPs benefit by reviewing brochures that can help decrease the risk for medical errors and improve their understanding of adverse events. Patients find brochures helpful, too, as the information can improve their knowledge of their illness and enhance their adherence to acute treatments. Evidence-based guidance exists on how to best develop brochures for the audience you are trying to reach.

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