In a recent paper, Grudniewicz et al. conducted a systematic review to determine if printed educational materials (PEMs) are effective for use in primary care. A total of 40 studies were included, and the authors concluded PEMs were not an effective means to improve patient outcomes, which is discouraging given how common this tool is used.
After a closer read, the effectiveness of PEMs on patient outcomes were gauged by dichotomous variables (e.g., abstinence vs. remission; high vs. low blood pressure). Although hard endpoints certainly have a place when studying effectiveness, I would argue that: (1) PEMs should not be expected to work as standalone interventions to improve patients’ outcomes, (2) PEMs are intended to educate (hence the title!) rather than change biological outcomes and/or behaviors themselves, and (3) the effectiveness of PEMs may be better determined by studying patients’ psychosocial determinants of behavior change.
I do agree with the authors that the design of PEMs need to be optimized for patients and tailored to those who use them, which is a conclusion we draw in a paper currently under review at Patient Education & Counselling.