No need to scrimp when budget is tight

Managers offer innovative methods

Question: "When your budget is small, it is difficult to build a good variety of resources for patient education. How do you make sure staff have the tools they need to teach patients when your budget is tight? What have been some of your most innovative methods for inexpensively obtaining or creating patient education resources?"

Answer: Identify priority educational needs requiring materials, and focus on purchasing information on those first, advises Annette Mercurio, MPH, CHES, director of patient, family, and community education at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, CA. To determine top needs, review data on the most common diagnoses at your health care facility, most common tests and procedures performed, and the results of patient and staff needs assessments.

Once the most pertinent educational needs have been pinpointed, review what is available on those topics and identify one or two of the best pieces to keep on hand. "Given that connecting patients with resources is what we love, patient educators sometimes adopt the-more-the-better’ attitude regarding materials," Mercurio explains. However, purchasing several pamphlets to distribute on each topic can be expensive.

An inexpensive way to supplement materials on hand is to provide patients with a handout listing other print and on-line resources. In fact, the range of resources available to staff also can be expanded by helping patient care areas bookmark reliable web sites with educational materials that can be printed on demand. "While staff may be better supported with hard copies of materials that they frequently use, Internet-based resources can expand resource options for less commonly addressed topics," she says.

Building a patient education library can be difficult when you are a small, rural hospital (37 beds), says Loretta Glaze, RN, education/QI coordinator at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln City, OR. To stay within budget, she looks for sources of free patient educational materials, such as drug companies and national organizations. For example, insulin companies have pamphlets on diabetes, as does the Alexandria, VA-based American Diabetes Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has pamphlets on hepatitis B and C.

Grant money is another means for bolstering a meager patient education budget, says Glaze. She works with the hospital’s public relations and foundation departments supplying information needed to secure a grant once they have done the legwork to find it.

While pharmaceutical companies are good resources for free materials, they always need to be screened for product bias. But there are lots of excellent materials that do not promote products, says Mercurio. In addition, pharmaceutical representatives also may be receptive to requests for unrestricted educational grants to support patient education efforts, including the purchase of materials, she says.

Print on demand

Asking for donations is a good idea, says Laurel D. Spooner, education coordinator for Winter Haven (FL) Hospital. When asked, the hospital’s volunteer auxiliary donated funds to cover the cost of implementing Micromedex Carenotes, a software program that generates patient education handouts. Since that time, they have donated money to upgrade to the intranet version and for the annual subscription renewal, she reports.

The education department at Great Plains Regional Medical Center in North Platte, NE, purchased Savenotes from Micromedex, which enables hospital staff to make their own documents or alter the Micromedex documents to fit their needs. "It’s a great resource. We can customize the documents, create our own, and they are not a storage problem because they are printed as needed," says Barb Petersen, RN, patient education coordinator at the medical center.

Having patient education handouts in the hospital’s computer system so they can be printed as needed not only saves money and storage space but saves time because managers don’t have to keep the floors stocked with materials, says Gwen Thoma, EdD, RN, CAN, BC, director of educational services at Southeast Missouri Hospital in Cape Girardeau. In addition, computer-generated handouts make it easier to prompt education. "We have arranged to have many of our handouts on tests and procedures run off automatically when the test or procedure is ordered," says Thoma.

Before the computer system was in place, Thoma produced handouts that could be reproduced on a copy machine. To make them look attractive, she purchased cream-colored paper and had the health care facility’s three-color logo printed on it. She then ran the handouts through the copier and supplied the patient care areas as needed. "Expensive booklets don’t always have to be purchased if you are willing to spend a little time and develop your own content," she says.

To reduce staff time when creating in-house materials, get samples from other facilities and find out what others have done that works, suggests Petersen. To have access to such information, join a networking group or patient education listserv. "I am in a personal network of patient education staff within my area that I have compiled telephone numbers for and contacts on my own," she says.

Petersen also belongs to the Nebraska Iowa Patient Education Council that meets quarterly to discuss conferences, new issues, and share documents. Although the distance to the meeting place prohibits her from regularly attending, members are willing to share what they learned at a meeting.

Many of the institutions that are represented in these networking meetings have the technology and funds to produce quality videos and often will sell them at cost or for a small profit, says Petersen.

There also are inexpensive teaching tools that can be tailored to the needs of patients. For example, audiotapes can be developed and duplicated at a relatively low cost. Also, consider creating flipcharts for teaching by developing a PowerPoint presentation and printing pages on a color printer, says Mercurio.


For more information about stretching your patient education budget, contact:

  • Loretta Glaze, RN, Education/QI Coordinator, Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital, 3043 N.E. 28th St., Lincoln City, OR 97367. Telephone: (541) 996-7113. E-mail:
  • Annette Mercurio, MPH, CHES, Director of Patient, Family, and Community Education, City of Hope National Medical Center, 1500 E. Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010-0269. Telephone: (626) 301-8926. E-mail:
  • Barb Petersen, RN, Patient Education Coordinator, Great Plains Regional Medical Center, 601 W. Leota, North Platte, NE 69101. Telephone: (308) 535-8640. E-mail:
  • Laurel D. Spooner, RN, BSN, Education Coordinator, Winter Haven Hospital, 200 Ave. F, N.E., Winter Haven, FL 33881. Telephone: (863) 293-1121 ext. 3336. E-mail:
  • Gwen Thoma, EdD, RN, CNA, BS, Director of Educational Services, Southeast Missouri Hospital, 1701 Lacey St., Cape Girardeau, MO 63701. Telephone: (573) 651-5810. E-mail: