Multicenter Study of Preferences for Health Education in the Emergency Department Population

Objectives: Emergency departments (EDs) are increasingly proposed as high-yield venues for providing preventive health education to a population at risk for unhealthy behaviors and unmet primary care needs. This study sought to determine the preferred health education topics and teaching modality among ED patients and visitors.

Methods: For two 24-hour periods, patients aged 18 years and older presenting to four Boston EDs were consecutively enrolled, and waiting room visitors were surveyed every 3 hours. The survey assessed interest in 28 health conditions and topics, which were further classified into nine composite health education categories. Also assessed was the participants' preferred teaching modality.

Results: Among 1,321 eligible subjects, 1,010 (76%) completed the survey, of whom 56% were patients and 44% were visitors. Among the health conditions, respondents were most interested in learning about stress and depression (32%). Among the health topics, respondents were most interested in exercise and nutrition (43%). With regard to learning modality, 34% of subjects chose brochures/book, 25% video, 24% speaking with an expert, 14% using a computer, and 3% another mode of learning (e.g., a class). Speaking with an expert was the overall preferred modality for those with less than high school education and Hispanics, as well as those interested in HIV screening, youth violence, and stroke. Video was the preferred modality for those interested in learning more about depression, alcohol, drugs, firearm safety, and smoke detectors.

Conclusions: Emergency department patients and visitors were most interested in health education on stress, depression, exercise, and nutrition, compared to topics more commonly targeted to the ED population such as substance abuse, sexual health (including HIV testing), and injury prevention. Despite many recent innovations in health education, most ED patients and visitors in our study preferred the traditional form of books and brochures. Future ED health education efforts may be optimized by taking into account the learning preferences of the target ED population.