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Putting prevention into practice (Green Book)

Providing quality prevention information

Patient education materials increase adherence with medication and therapeutic regimens, improve retention and recall of information, and can provide a cueing/prompting effect. Patient education materials tend to be more effective when delivered personally to the patient, tailored to interest in changing behaviour and targeted to the patient’s characteristics. On average, patients commonly wait 15–20 minutes in the waiting room before seeing a GP. The waiting room is an effective environment to prompt patients about a range of prevention areas using the noticeboard, interactive media, a patient practice prevention survey, and brochures on physical activity and healthy eating. Prompting and/or providing educational material to patients in the waiting room can:

  • increase the likelihood of their raising preventive issues during the consultation
  • improve the knowledge and understanding of their condition and other health problems
  • prime health related behaviour change
  • increase patient satisfaction
  • distract the patient from focusing on how long they have been waiting to the see the GP (a potent source of dissatisfaction)
  • offset the time and sensitivity associated with raising the topic directly by the GP.

Be strategic with your patient information

  • Make the information topical
  • Increase the amount and range of materials available, use themes or current topics. Change them regularly and make sure they are up-to-date. Information that hasn’t been ‘turned over’, or isn’t either recent or relevant is more likely to be ignored by patients
  • Reinforce health messages and campaigns. Many state health departments have a health events calendar that may offer suggestions such as seasonal health issues, health promotion campaigns and key days
  • Consider having a practice newsletter for the waiting room
  • Information is more likely to be noticed and read if the information relates to a specific personal health problem or issue. Have leaflets/posters available in different languages and gear your selection of topics to the interests, concerns and ethnic/language mix of your practice population (see Appendix 5).
  • Make displays visually engaging and avoid a cluttered notice board. Remember, less is more. Ensure that leaflets have an adequate font size. Many leaflets are in too small a font to be read by patients sitting in the waiting room. Succinct summaries and catchy headings all help to engage the patient’s attention. The receptionist could ask people about the displays or materials, focus their attention on what is available or new, or give handouts when patients register for appointments.

Anyone for a walk?

One practice has set up a gentle walking group. On certain lunch times a staff member would go walking with any patients that were interested. This means that the practice not only promoted healthy activities, but also was active in its involvement.

Mary Mathews, Monash Division of General Practice, Victoria,

Men’s health at the local pub!

Male patients are often reluctant to discuss preventive care in the surgery. To address this, one general practice established a series of informal evenings at the local pub to talk about a range of male health topics such as prostate cancer, diabetes and heart disease. These evenings proved to be extremely popular. Men found the environment a lot less threatening and enjoyed the informal atmosphere and opportunity to ask questions.

Rod Pearce, Athelstone, South Australia

Consider your prevention targets and the type of patient you hope to reach. This table may help you to understand what information you will provide for each target group and how the information will be provided.

What information will you provide?

How and where will patients access information?

What media will you use?

Name/description of material

















Cervical screening




Breast screening












Alcohol intake




Cholesterol levels








Injury prevention




Sun exposure




Mental health




Alternative and complementary medicines




Contraception and STIs




Community services









Managing patient information

Identify the staff member/s who will be responsible for putting your patient information strategy into practice. That person will be required to:

  • maintain supplies of hard copy materials
  • review suitability of materials
  • rotate materials around new or topical issues.

As poster storage is difficult, you should consider laminating posters and store using skirthangers. Many handouts can be found on clinical software or the internet. Make a folder containing these handouts (or their location on the medical software or web addresses).


The internet can provide direct access to potentially high quality information167 and innovative formats such as interactive voice messages and interactive programs that interview patients, provide them with tailored information and feedback or address health concerns. Web based resources have a number of potential advantages over paper based education materials, including:

  • rapidly increasing and direct access to a wide range of up-to-date educational materials
  • greater flexibility and utility of the presentation of information tailored to the individual user
  • more effective presentation of information to enable informed decision making
  • the opportunity to connect and convey the experiences of others with the same or similar conditions and the ability to access and interact with others in a social support network
  • the ability to supply information to a rapidly expanding demand. Up to 4.5% of all searches on the internet are health related with increasing interest expressed by patients and consumers
  • efficiency through expanding information and access without substantive increases in cost.


  • quality and authority of information is variable and can be quite poor
  • accessing good and accurate information can be difficult
  • individuals have variable skills in accessing quality information
  • currently the disadvantaged tend to have less access.

Considerations when reviewing internet sites for prevention information are:

  • access – the site should be readily assessable and documents downloadable
  • accuracy – read the content and ensure it is up-to-date, accurate and balanced. There should be references to the source of the information
  • clarity, readability and ease of use – is the purpose of the site clearly stated? Is the information easy to read? Is the site logically organised and easy to navigate?
  • credibility – check the author and the sponsors and their credentials. Does the group have a track record?
  • privacy – does the site have a privacy policy? Is transfer of information encrypted?
  • purpose – is there a conflict of interest, a bias or advertising of some type? Investigate any links associated with the site
  • ethics – are there any conflicts of interest? Is the sponsorship transparent?

Other electronic resources

  • Educational voice messages
  • Automated and/or interactive phone follow up and support
  • Interactive computer programs
  • Electronic patient-doctor communication


  • Judge is a partnership between the charity Contact a Family and Northumbria University (UK). Judge has developed a checklist to cover the criteria patients should apply to websites at
  • Organising Medical Networked Information (OMNI) is a searchable site that contains high quality health and medicine internet sites at
  • MedHunt is a medical search engine provided by the Health On the Net Foundation (HON) at
  • Doctors Reference Site at