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Every health educator wants to use educational materials that effectively help patients reach their goals. What’s needed is a tool that can help you evaluate the value of resources you are currently using and those under consideration.

There is help in the form of the Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool. PEMAT was created by a research team at AHRQ working with a panel of experts in health literacy, content creation, patient education, and communication.

PEMAT’s purpose is to help determine whether patients will be able to effectively use educational resources based on these definitions:

  • Understandability: Patient education materials are understandable when consumers of diverse backgrounds and varying levels of health literacy can process and explain key messages.
  • Actionability: Patient education materials are actionable when consumers of diverse backgrounds and varying levels of health literacy can identify what they can do based on the information presented.

PEMAT was designed to be used by healthcare providers, health librarians and others tasked with providing high-quality materials to patients or consumers. There are two versions including PEMAT-P for printable materials (e.g., brochures, pamphlets, PDFs) and PEMAT for audiovisual resources.

  • PEMAT-A/V for audiovisual materials (E.g., videos, multimedia materials) consists of 13 items measuring understandability and 4 items measuring actionability. These include content, word choice and style, layout and design, and use of visual aids.

For more information about the reliability and validity of the PEMAT, go to the article, Development of the Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT): a new measure of understandability and actionability for print and audiovisual patient information.

How one organization improved their patient education materials with PEMAT

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) in New York City uses PEMAT to help ensure that health information is effectively presented to patients of varying backgrounds and levels of health literacy.



“The PEMAT gives us greater precision in the assessment of our materials. This empowers our patients to make more informed decisions, participate more in their care, and ultimately leads to better outcomes.”

– Chasity Burrows Walters, Ph.D., R.N.,
   Director Patient & Caregiver Education
   Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

The educational materials included in MSK’s virtual library are reviewed at least every 2 years by MSK’s content experts and health education specialists. Since 2015, the PEMAT has been incorporated into that review process.

According to Director of Patient and Caregiver Education, Chasity Burrows Walters, Ph.D., R.N., PEMAT is used to complement readability assessments that estimate reading comprehension by grade level. 

Dr. Walters explains, “MSK has a long-standing commitment to providing educational materials that are written at a sixth-grade reading level, but even using a term that’s common in cancer care, like ‘chemotherapy,’ decreases the readability. The PEMAT allows us to look beyond readability levels alone.”

MSK’s average PEMAT scores, as of February 2016, were 88% for understandability and 96% for their ability to be used easily. MSK also uses the PEMAT to guide the development of new educational materials. “Not only have we incorporated the principles of the PEMAT into our editorial style guide, they’ve also been included in MSK’s patient education policy.”

In addition, PEMAT is the first tool available that has enabled MSK to evaluate its audio-visual materials. “This component of PEMAT has been very helpful,” Dr. Walters said. “While the vast majority of our materials are text-based, we are responding to an increasing demand for video content. The PEMAT has been integral in our efforts to create and evaluate materials in that format.”

Because the PEMAT was designed for anyone to use, clinicians, ancillary staff, and former patients have used the tool to evaluate MSK’s materials. When surveyed, 92% reported that it was easy to use.

“The PEMAT gives us greater precision in the assessment of our materials. This empowers our patients to make more informed decisions, participate more in their care, and ultimately leads to better outcomes.”

To read how the nation’s fifth largest medical group, Novant Health, uses PEMAT, click here.


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Related resources

The Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool and User’s Guide (Version 1.0) 

Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool for Audiovisual Materials (PEMAT-A/V)

Materials Assessment Tool for Printable Materials (PEMAT-P)