Published: 16/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5805 Page 23

Many patients will recognise Neil Goodwin's comments (Bright Sparks, feature, 25 April) that 'it became clear to me that communication with patients is not a continual process but a series of separate interactions along the diagnostic and treatment spectrum' and 'though patients are told at each stage what is going to happen next, the silence while waiting for further details can be stressful'.

Research we have conducted shows that a creative approach to this issue can lead to real benefits for patients at relatively low cost.

We conducted a randomised controlled trial with an acute trust in 2000. We compared two groups of elective surgical patients having an elective episode of care, from their first outpatient appointment to their return home. The control group was provided with standard hospital-supplied information.

An experimental group was also given an additional series of three commercially published booklets - one before their first appointment, one at preassessment and one at discharge.

Outcomes were measured throughout the patients' progress and results for the two groups compared. In summary the results revealed that:

nelective patients can really benefit from a comprehensive cascade of written information provided at suitable times;

nthe influence of comprehensive information can vary, but is demonstrable in health outcomes during and after treatment - particularly reduced pain and pre-operative anxiety - as well as in knowledge and satisfaction with their experience.

We believe a proper assessment ofpatients' information needs on their journey through the healthcare system can lead to a better-quality experience, may reduce the need for medical intervention and could have implications in reducing healthcare costs.

The findings are available from Scriptographic Publications, Alton, Hants GU34 1ND.

Paul Garrud, Senior lecturer in behavioural sciences Nottingham University, Michael Whitcroft managing director Scriptographic Publications