The Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT) and User’s Guide

Domain: Understandability

Topic: Word Choice & Style

Item 3: The material uses common, everyday language (P and A/V)

Ratings: Disagree = 0       Agree = 1

Explanation

The material should use common, everyday language that would be easy to understand for most consumers or patients nearly all of the time. Jargon (i.e., technical language) should not be used.

If the material includes abbreviations or acronyms, they should be spelled out or defined the first time they are used. If the material uses more than a few abbreviations or acronyms, even if they are spelled out, the material will be difficult to understand and you should disagree with this item. However, when spelling out an acronym is not helpful, such as certain medical tests or imaging technologies like CT or CAT scan (computed tomography or computer axial tomography), you should not disagree solely for use of this type of acronym.

Examples

The following are examples of common, everyday language:

  • Runny nose (not excess mucus).
  • Pain killer (not analgesic).
  • Doctor (not physician).
  • Send you to another doctor (not referral).
  • Enough (not sufficient).
  • Swelling (not inflammation).
  • Helpful (not beneficial).
  • Use (not utilize).
  • Come back (not recur)
  • Make worse (not exacerbate)
  • Feverish (not febrile).
  • Make easier (not facilitate).
  • Watch (not observe).
  • Hole (not perforation).
  • Deadly (not terminal).

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Item 4: Medical terms are used only to familiarize audience with the terms. When used, medical terms are defined (P and A/V)

Ratings: Disagree = 0       Agree = 1

Explanation

The material should not use medical terms except to educate the audience about the medical terms. When medical terms are used they are explained. The explanation of a medical term should also be easy to understand. Hypertext definitions (text displayed on a computer or a Web site with references via hyperlinks to other text that the reader can access by a mouse click or by touching the screen) are not adequate as the sole means of providing explanations. Consumers may be confused by, and unable to follow, hyperlinks. It is acceptable, however, if hypertext or hyperlinks are simply one technique used among others to make a term understandable.

Even when there are not obvious plain language substitutes for a medical term, a material that uses medical terms will not be easily understood. You should disagree with this item if the material uses medical terms other than to introduce them.

Examples
Medical Terms
  • Medical procedures (e.g., colonoscopy, endoscopy, mammogram).
  • Medical devices (e.g., nebulizer, glucometer).
  • Drug classes (e.g., benzodiazepines, bronchodilators).
  • Conditions (e.g., hypertension, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction).

CHOOSE "AGREE"

You can have high blood pressure (hypertension) for years without any symptoms. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your chances of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke.

CHOOSE "AGREE"

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of your heart is blocked for a long time and part of the heart muscle is damaged or dies. The medical term for this is myocardial infarction.

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Item 5: The material uses the active voice (P and A/V)

Ratings: Disagree = 0       Agree = 1

Explanation

The material should almost always use the active voice. If the material uses the passive voice in a single instance, but overall uses active voice you should agree with this item.

The active voice is preferable to the passive voice because it is easier to understand. The active voice is when the subject performs the action it expresses (e.g., the nurse will give you the medication). The passive voice is when the subject is acted upon by the verb (e.g., you will be given the medication by the nurse). Remember, voice (i.e., active and passive) can have different tenses (e.g., past, present, future) and forms (i.e., indicative, imperative and subjunctive).

Examples

CHOOSE "AGREE"—Active voice: Take your medicine with a full glass of water.
CHOOSE "DISAGREE"—Passive voice: This medicine should be taken with a full glass of water.

CHOOSE "AGREE"—Active voice: If you see redness, see your health care provider.
CHOOSE "DISAGREE"—Passive voice: If redness is observed, the patient should see a health care provider.

CHOOSE "AGREE"—Active voice: The patient visits the heart specialist after a heart attack.
CHOOSE "DISAGREE"—Passive voice: The patient is seen by the heart specialist after a heart attack.

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Page last reviewed October 2013
Internet Citation: The Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT) and User’s Guide: Domain: Understandability. October 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/prevention-chronic-care/improve/self-mgmt/pemat/pemat4.html