Communication strategies to promote education

Determine what to do and who will do it

It isn't enough to create resources for patient education. The materials, programs, classes, Internet sites, and educational venues must be continuously promoted or they won't be consistently used.

At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, communication plans are developed that establish a system for promotion.

According to Louise Villejo, MPH, CHES, executive director of the patient education office, there is an institution communication plan and then a plan is developed for every initiative.

"Our institution is very large and we have a lot of new patients coming through, as well as new staff, so we are continuously trying to promote our efforts," said Villejo.

Each plan follows a format that includes an objective and goals for communication as well as concrete methods of fulfilling them. Tactics cover face-to-face communication, electronic communication, publications and print, and external communication.

One of the initiatives over the past two years has been to promote MD Anderson's psychosocial resources to patients and family members such as chaplaincy and social work services. A communication plan was developed to provide an example of how the process works.

The communication plan for psychosocial council begins with an objective that states: "Strategy 1.4 of the Strategic Vision states that, 'We will continue to enhance the patient experience by providing counseling, compassion, and hope in a supportive environment.' The objective of the psychosocial communication plan is to promote to patient, family members, and staff what psychosocial resources are available and reinforce that managing patient and caregiver psychosocial issues is vital to the care to the patient from the first point of contact throughout their continuum of care. Each staff person that comes in contact with the patient has a role in enhancing the patient experience."

The plan also has four goals for psychosocial communication that include the following:

  • Develop messages and collateral materials to promote psychosocial resources at MD Anderson, including psychosocial web site, and print and electronic materials.
  • Promote message that managing patient and caregiver psychosocial issues is vital to the care to the patient.
  • Educate patients/caregivers about what psychosocial resources are available and how to access them.
  • Educate employees about what psychosocial resources are available and how to refer appropriately.

Determine communication tactics

To accomplish the goals, communication tactics are established as part of the plan. For example, to spread the word in face-to-face encounters to staff members, presentations and 30-second announcements will be scheduled to highlight psychosocial initiatives at managers' forums. Also, time at clinical staff meetings will be scheduled to provide an overview of psychosocial resources.

To reach patients, new patient orientation class content will highlight psychosocial resources and the role of each discipline. The class is held three times a week and is coordinated by the patient education office. Classes held at the "Place of Wellness" will also cover psychosocial resources.

Tactics for electronic communication include incorporating psychosocial messages into all appropriate web sites, in addition to developing a dedicated psychosocial Web site. Information also will be inserted into on-line newsletters. For example "Nursing News and Information," an electronic publication for nurses distributed weekly via e-mail, will have stories about psychosocial topics.

To reach patients electronically, the channel available to all patients on their TV set will have a series of psychosocial education messages.

Several print publications will carry psychosocial news as well. These include "Employee Notes," a weekly publication for MD Anderson employees; "Faculty Notes," a monthly publication for MD Anderson faculty members; and "FYI," a weekly patient/caregiver newsletter.

Externally, psychosocial resources will be highlighted on the Internet site.

To make sure the strategy is carried out, a timeline is created. In the fall of 2007, messages about psychosocial services and resources will be inserted into all employee and patient print newsletters. Oversight of this project is assigned to an education subcommittee of the psychosocial council and to internal communications.

Also during the fall of 2007, the psychosocial council education subcommittee will explain the council's initiatives at clinical staff meetings. During a manager's forum they will explain what managers should know about psychosocial resources and what they should do with the information.

The timeline for communication tactics is scheduled from April 2007 through April 2008.

Sometimes methods for communicating are evaluated in a limited pilot study before implementing institution-wide, says Villejo. For example, a poster was developed with photos of chaplaincy and social work representatives interacting with patients so people could see what services were offered, rather than reading a laundry list of services. The poster was hung in every exam room within the breast and internal medicine clinics.

Villejo said it helped remind staff what services were available and patients could view the poster while waiting for their physician.

Communication plans are developed when word on anything must go out, whether a program, class, or initiative. Also, all communication channels that are available are routinely used, from staff meetings to electronic newsletters to new patient orientation classes.


For more information about creating communication plans to promote resources available to patients, contact:

  • Louise Villejo, MPH, CHES, executive director, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Patient Education Office, 1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030. Phone: (713) 792-7128. Fax: (713) 794-5379. E-mail: Web site: