Customized Health Education Not Always Necessary

Armen Hareyan's picture
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New research adds to evidence that health officials do not always need to customize educational materials for all patients about the screening tests they should take.

In the study, researchers report that a generic brochure performed about as well as specially created booklets for convincing high-risk subjects to consider colon cancer tests.

The individualized booklets were better at motivating colon cancer screening among certain subgroups, but the generic brochure held its own overall, said study lead author Susan Rawl, an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing.

"What we found has been consistent with other (research) on tailoring," Rawl said. "Not everyone needs health information that is custom-tailored specifically for them. Some people just need a simple 'one-size-fits-all' prompt."

At issue is whether patients are more likely to respond to suggestions about health screenings if they get individualized materials designed specifically for them that address their particular risk factors and barriers.

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In the study, which appears in the May issue of the journal Patient Education and Counseling, researchers targeted 140 close relatives of people with colon cancer. Depending on the age of their affected relative, these people face as much as a two- to three-fold increased risk of getting the disease.

Based on responses to computerized phone interviews, the researchers designed individualized, 10-page educational booklets about colon cancer screening for some participants. Other participants received a generic American Cancer Society brochure about colon-cancer screening.

After three months, both groups were equally likely to have had a screening test. However, those who received the individualized packets were more likely to consider screening. The individualized packets also seemed to have a greater effect on white participants.

"For many people, untailored educational materials could be just as effective" as an individualized approach, Rawl said. It could also be more cost-effective, she said.

Dr. David Rovner, a professor emeritus at Michigan State University who studies health education, said the findings regarding the subgroups -- such as Caucasians -- are questionable. The study was not designed to make conclusions about those subgroups, he said.

Rovner added that the study results are limited because the education level of participants was high -- a whopping 20 percent had been to graduate school -- and there is no way of knowing what the effect of the interventions on men with lower levels of education would be.

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