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Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(10):1663

Reader feedback shows that many of you like the patient education handouts that accompany some AFP review articles. A recent survey shows that 60 percent of readers use AFP patient education material several times a month. The quality of the handouts (i.e., level of writing, usefulness, and visual appeal) was rated 4 on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = poor; 5 = excellent). We also receive many comment cards that say you use the handouts often, and many of you offer suggestions for improvements. We appreciate all the feedback and use it to continually enhance the patient education materials.

Our goal is to make the patient education handouts short, focused, informative, and helpful. In this issue there are excellent examples of patient handouts with the article on acute ankle injury (pages 1723 and 1725) and the article on testicular torsion (page1746).

How Are Handouts Developed?

Patient information handouts have been published in AFP for the past 17 years. During that time, the process for developing the material has evolved. The handouts typically are written by the same authors who write the accompanying article. The authors draw on their experience with patients to develop handouts that will answer the most commonly asked questions about a disease or condition. The guidelines for writing patient handouts are based on experience with AFP handouts, reader and author feedback, and patient education research findings.

When a review article is submitted with a patient education handout, both are reviewed by the same medical editor, who ensures that the patient information is as up to date as possible at the time of publication. The handout and article are then transferred to the professional journalist staff for editing.

Research shows that information for the general public is best grasped when it is conveyed in concise and simple language. Patient handouts focus on no more than five teaching points and are edited to the fifth- to seventh-grade reading level, which has been shown to be the most effective for most patients.

If we feel that patients would benefit from seeing an anatomical illustration, an office procedure, or an exercise, we call on our patient education illustrator, Kathryn Born, for a sketch. The line drawings are reviewed by a medical editor, professional editor, and the author before publication.

Available Online

When AFP's patient information handouts are published, they are available online with the clinical review article. We strive to make patient information as current as we can at the time of publication, but with the rapid changes in medical information, some of the patient information on the AFP Web site may go out of date over time.

To counter this problem, most of the AFP patient information handouts are incorporated into the AAFP patient education Web site ( by the Academy's online publishing staff. This site does not have the space constraints that we have in the print journal; therefore, the handouts go through yet another medical review and editing process to include additional information. To keep the information current, the material on is reviewed routinely.

Patient Education Collections

We occasionally publish collections of patient information handouts on a related topic, such as the collection on men's health in the November 1 issue of AFP ( and the collection on mental health in the October 15 issue ( One of our professional editors searches for three or four handouts on a related topic, then edits them to AFP style. The handouts are then sent to an AFP medical editor who makes sure that the information is up to date. If a condition is seasonal, we try to schedule publication so that our readers can distribute them to patients when the information is needed the most (e.g., sun protection and skin cancer examinations in the summer, colds and influenza in October).

If you have a request for topics for future patient information collections, or if you have suggestions to make AFP's patient information materials more helpful, we would like to hear from you. Please send an e-mail

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Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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