Teaching Patients about New Medications? A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

Release Date: April 30, 2013 | By Patricia McAdams, HBNS Contributing Writer
Research Source: The Cochrane Library


  • Multimedia educational materials, including pictures, audio and video, about medications are more effective than verbal instructions at teaching patients about their prescriptions.
  • Multimedia materials could be used in addition to written materials or usual care or in instances where detailed instructions from a health professional are not feasible.
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Improving people’s knowledge and skills about their medications may be best achieved with multimedia patient education materials, finds a new systematic review in The Cochrane Library.

Sabina Ciciriello, Ph.D., head reviewer and rheumatologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia, says multimedia interventions offer significant potential advantages, often combining written words with diagrams, pictures, animation, audio or video.

“Studies have shown that 40 to 80 percent of the instructions about medications given to patients verbally by health care professionals are promptly forgotten — and about half of what is remembered is remembered incorrectly,” says Ciciriello.  “In addition, the literacy level required to read many patient information leaflets is much higher than that of the general population.” The review identified 24 studies testing multimedia interventions in 8,112 patients.

Ciciriello initiated the review when she noticed that many of her patients were getting misinformation about methotrexate.  As a low-dose tablet once a week, methotrexate is an effective first line treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. This drug, however, is also used in high doses as a therapy for cancer.

“If you look at information online, or in literature enclosed with methotrexate tablets, it lists all of the side effects,” she says.  “It does not differentiate between the low dose used for rheumatoid arthritis and the high dose used for chemotherapy.  Some of our patients chose not to go on what is a very good treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, because of concerns about side effects.  Others experienced serious side effects, and even death, by taking the wrong strength tablet, or taking it daily.”

According to Ciciriello, education should be offered in a variety of formats, so patients can choose the ones best for them.  Those who are less tech savvy might watch a video in their doctor’s waiting room, while others might download an app on their computers.  “More quality research is required in this area, but it is vital that patients be informed on how to take medicine safely.  With today’s technology, it is getting easier and cheaper for health care professionals and patient support groups to produce these materials.”

“Patient-clinician communications are often inadequate,” agrees Curt Furberg, M.D., professor emeritus at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and co-author of Knowing Your Medications — A Guide to Becoming an Informed Patient.

“Multimedia educational resources can play an important role in better informing and engaging patients about their medical conditions and their medications.  Of particular value are electronic reminders to improve adherence to long-term drug treatment.  Patients have the right to be fully informed about a medication’s potential benefits and harmful effects.”

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Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at (202) 387-2829 or [email protected]

The Cochrane Library (http://www.thecochranelibrary.com) contains high quality health care information, including systematic reviews from The Cochrane Collaboration. These reviews bring together research on the effects of health care and are considered the gold standard for determining the relative effectiveness of different interventions.

Ciciriello S, Johnston RV, Osborne RH,Wicks I, deKroo T, Clerehan R, O’Neill C, Buchbinder R. Multimedia educational interventions for consumers about prescribed and over-the-counter medications. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD008416. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008416.pub2.


Tags for this article:
Prescription Drugs   Medical/Hospital Practice   Patient Engagement   Health Care Access   Communicate with your Doctors   Participate in your Treatment   Inside Healthcare  

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