Making Sense of Materials
With the advent of the internet, information on health-related topics has never been easier to access. However, that does not mean that all information is of equal quality, validity or use. At the core of health education is the ability to provide materials which make sense and help patients achieve their health goals. To do this, health educators use tools to evaluate education materials. One major tool is the Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT).
What is the PEMAT?
The PEMAT is a reliable instrument to help educators identify and select resources which their patients will be able to best understand and use. It is a systematic method for professionals to judge the quality of materials based on two criteria. Developers of the PEMAT defined these as:
- Understandability: how easy it is for consumers of diverse backgrounds and degrees of health literacy to read, process and explain the primary message of materials.
- Actionability: how easy it is for such consumers to identify the step they need to take according to the information presented to them.
The PEMAT can only be used on print and audiovisual materials. Other forms of presentation, such as verbal materials, cannot be assessed with the PEMAT. The evaluation varies according to these two types of materials, but both methods use worksheets to analyze the following areas:
- Word choice and style
- Use of numbers
- Layout and design
- Use of visual aids
- Clarity of actions or next steps
In each category, the professional is asked to rank certain elements using numbers. These points are then added and calculated into a percent which provides an insight into the ease of understanding and actionability of materials.
Advocates of the PEMAT caution that no set score exists which indicates definitively excellent or poor education materials. Rather, the PEMAT relies on internal consistency among materials of a given topic. In other words, professionals will need to conduct PEMAT evaluations on a variety of materials before gaining a sense of what constitutes a higher or lower level of understandability and actionability according to the specific type of educational materials with which they are working.
Ways to Use the PEMAT
The PEMAT is designed to help healthcare providers and professionals choose from the constellation of educational materials available today. When used strategically, it’s a useful tool for healthcare providers to quickly and accurately gain insight into the understandability and actionability of materials. Consider using the PEMAT to:
1. Compare Similar Materials
By providing professionals with a means to rank materials against one another, it becomes possible to gain a sense of the body of existing information on a given topic. Use the PEMAT when choosing between two similar materials to select the one which a patient will be best able to understand and act upon.
2. Assess in Conjunction with Other Methods
Many tools are available to healthcare professionals to identify the best possible materials to present to their patients. These tools focus on different elements of materials such as readability or strategies for writing health literacy information. Since a high score does not necessarily indicate a high-quality material, consider using the PEMAT in conjunction with multiple methods to develop an in-depth analysis of the value or quality of materials.
3. Consider a Broader Variety of Educational Materials
The PEMAT is the first type of health education literature assessment to go beyond simply printed or written materials. Using the PEMAT allows healthcare professionals to introduce audiovisual materials for patients to improve educational reach.
4. Review and Audit of Existing Materials
Organizations such as community health centers may wish to use the PEMAT to audit the body of existing materials that are currently available to patients and consumers. This may prove especially valuable if another method of assessment or analysis constituted the primary means by which an organization selected its educational materials.
The PEMAT as a Tool for Health Literacy and Patient Empowerment
So much health information exists today that it can be difficult to find quality, useful information to adequately meet a patient’s needs. The PEMAT was developed to allow professionals to step beyond merely analyzing the readability of educational materials. By emphasizing ease of understanding and actionability, it helps professionals identify the material best suited to not just developing health literacy, but also empowering patients to take control of their health.
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