Experts: Value of patient ed increasing

Not all positions are full-time

Many factors are increasing the value of patient education, according to experts in the field.

"As our health care system moves toward spending less and saving more, patient education will become more important," says Fran London, MS, RN, a health education specialist at The Emily Center at Phoenix (AZ) Children's Hospital.

Patient education is low-tech and low-cost with proven outcomes, she explains.

Education can equal cost savings to a health care institution, says Nita D. Pyle, MSN, RN, associate director of the Patient Education Office at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. For example, cost savings can result from fewer hospital readmissions following discharge or fewer visits to the emergency department.

In addition, with health care reform, patient education may increase a health care institution's bottom line through reimbursement. With increased emphasis on such issues as the management of chronic disease, discussions on reimbursement for some education may be back on the table, says Cezanne Garcia, MPH, senior program and resource specialist for the Institute for Patient-and Family-Centered Care in Bethesda, MD.

Other areas where the need for education is growing include medication adherence, healthy lifestyles, and obesity reduction, adds London.

Do salaries reflect PE value?

Our readers who completed the 2010 Patient Education Management Salary Survey indicated they made between $30,000 and $39,000 on the low end, and more than $80,000 on the high end.

There could be many reasons for such a wide variance. Salaries are determined in several ways, says Garcia. Some in the survey indicated they worked 20-30 hours, which could indicate the position was part-time. Also, it depends on the type of education programs and resources a patient education coordinator may oversee. The size of an institution could play a factor as well, she adds. A larger institution may have more departments and staff members asking for direction in program and resource development for patient education.

The survey indicated many readers working in patient education had worked in health care for 25-plus years, although they had not been in the field of patient education as long. Therefore, their salary would reflect their experience. "Seasoned health care workers usually don't take a salary decrease," explains Garcia.

To determine salary, administrators at Phoenix Children's Hospital look at the salaries of others in the region with the same skills and responsibilities, says London.

The majority of readers answering the survey had a master's degree, which indicates the position takes a certain skill set.

Increasingly, it is desirable to have a master's degree, so an individual has learned program development, implementation, and evaluation. In addition, the person who oversees patient education must view it as part of the total health care experience, says Garcia.

"These positions usually require someone to see the broad overview of the mission of the department and not get mired in the details," adds Pyle.

Managing groups of people, which often is taught as part of a master's program, is important, Pyle says. In addition, managers with a master's degree usually have planning and evaluation skills that are important to apply in patient education to gain visibility with upper management.

London agrees. Patient education is a sophisticated skill, and management of patient education even more so. Since it is integrated into the health care system, and helps other interventions work, it is not easily measured by itself. For example, unless a patient takes his medicine, or cares for a wound properly at home, the intervention is not effective. A master's degree is necessary to have the knowledge and skills to advocate for patient education, she says.

Benefits abound

Yet the benefits of having a patient education coordinator abound, adds London.

"It is to the organization's advantage to have a unified approach to patient and family education, in these days of market share and branding. All patients need access to the same information, no matter what their language, literacy level, or socioeconomic status," says London.

Implementing standards of teaching and developing standard content to make certain all patients receive what they need based on individual assessment is important, Pyle agrees.

A single contact person can coordinate and integrate efforts to reduce duplication, support standardization and reliable processes, and keep abreast of new developments and requisites, says Garcia.

There are many reasons to create a management position for patient education, she adds. The standards pertaining to patient education created by the The Joint Commission in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, have been a driving force over the years, says Garcia. Also, the growth in knowledge in the area of self-management of chronic conditions prompts the need for someone with expertise in education, she adds.

The continuing focus on clear communication impacts the field of education, says London. She points out that the U.S. government just passed the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which requires government communications to be clearly written.

Also, new Joint Commission patient-centered communication standards were implemented this month.

"Health literacy is not just written literacy. It is patients and families being able to know how to apply what they have learned to help them with their decision-making," says Garcia.

The amount of work required in the position of a patient education coordinator varies according to the job responsibilities assigned by each institution. At M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, there are many aspects of patient education to be covered, which keeps managers and their staff busy, says Pyle. "Our health education specialists work 40 hours a week. We are a very large facility and have 13 disease site clinics, 13 support clinics, and 500-plus inpatient beds," she explains.

Our readers indicated they work at hospitals with a range of 100 beds to those with 1,000 beds.

Neither the size of the institution, nor the job duties or hours worked seemed to be impacting the amount of salary increases this year. Most received a 1% to 3% salary increase.

"Raises have been holding steady at 2% to 3% in our institution for the past few years. I expect it will remain the same this year," says Pyle.

The current state of the economy has led some companies to require that employees take cuts in salary to prevent layoffs, says Garcia. Therefore, a 1% to 3% raise is good, she adds.

Sources

• Cezanne Garcia, MPH, Senior Program and Resource Specialist, Institute for Patient-and Family-Centered Care, 7900 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 405, Bethesda, MD 20814. Telephone: (206) 459-5516. E-mail: cgarcia@ipfcc.org.

• Fran London, MS, RN, Health Education Specialist, The Emily Center, Phoenix Children's Hospital, 1919 East Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ 85016-7710. Telephone: (602) 546-1408. E-mail: flondon@phoenixchildrens.com.

• Nita D. Pyle, MSN, RN, Associate Director, Patient Education Office, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Telephone: (713) 792-7128. E-mail: ndpyle@mdanderson.org.