In the course of undergraduate medical education, some elements of health literacy and patient communication are integrated into the curriculum. Finding and assessing high-quality patient information is an element often tackled by liaison librarians. However, students require additional knowledge of the visual and written communication skills required to overcome barriers to positive patient interactions and outcomes, particularly in groups that have specific needs such as older adults.

In conjunction with an NGO working with older adults, an elective course was developed by senior clinical faculty, librarians, and health communication specialists to teach medical students how to apply their health knowledge in the creation of patient information materials. Modules were developed in an online learning environment covering how to research topics in geriatric medicine, understanding health literacy and targeting older adults and their caregivers, finding reliable pre-existing patient information sources, and how to create patient information resources and patient education materials using written and visual communication skills.

Students participated in asynchronous learning, a series of lectures, and designed patient education pamphlets using plain language, needs assessment, and design principles learned. These pamphlets were presented and evaluated by the collaborating NGO and clinicians working in the field. Participants learned about the specific needs of older adults, the importance of using non-medical jargon, translating knowledge into action, developing key messages, and tools for appraising patient information, such as DISCERN.

Response to the elective from participating students was positive and each was able to demonstrate improved knowledge about health literacy and communicating with older adults. Some suggested changes to the structure of the course included feedback from the clinicians earlier in the schedule, additional templates and visual tools for pamphlets, and allowing for more time to fully develop the materials.


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