Innovative ideas for patient education

Educators often talk about "teachable moments," those times when the patient is ready to learn. This moment might be in a waiting area, exam room, or a hospital bed. To take advantage of these times, staff members in the Section of Patient Education at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, look for new ways to deliver patient education.

"Our core mission is to get the right materials, to the right patient, at the right time," says Becky Smith, RN, MA, manager of patient education.

The ideas for innovative delivery methods are developed through careful assessment of clinical areas by an educator. The assessment addresses needs in inpatient and outpatient settings. To be implemented, education needs must be integrated into a one-year plan for that clinical area.

"We do factor in the cost, especially with new innovations, before going forward," Smith says. "It is part of the equation along with potential patient outcomes and satisfaction."

In 2011, a major project incorporated exam room computers in the outpatient setting into the education process. Shorter videos (60 seconds long) were created in-house for these computers to take advantage of the time patients wait for their physicians. For example, patients might view a short video on an impending surgical procedure while they wait for their appointment with an orthopedic surgeon.

The computers also can be used to call up the database of hundreds of approved written materials created by the Section of Patient Education or to access consumer health information on Mayo's web site (www.mayoclinic.com/health-information).

In the Mayo Clinic outpatient waiting areas, anatomical models and interactive touch screens provide learning opportunities that are department-specific, such as ear, head, and neck in otorhinolargyngology. Also available are computer workstations that help patients navigate reliable web sites. Adjacent to an orthopedics waiting area are screens suspended from the ceiling with animations highlighting information about the knee joint or hand. Video on-demand is available throughout Mayo's outpatient and inpatient settings, with 900 videos accessible on an array of medical topics.

Innovative educational delivery methods also have been created to reach patients at home. A patient portal on Mayo Clinic's Web can be accessed through a safe, secure password for such information as lab results and appointment schedules. The portal makes it possible to deliver instructions on preparations for tests and procedures. Patients are notified via e-mail of impending appointments with a reminder to access the portal for instructions.

Another innovative way to deliver high level messages is a printed wellness calendar. The calendar includes a separate section listing titles of educational pamphlets, classes, CDs, and videos available in the various clinical areas.

Not every area has the same educational tools, says Smith. "We use a patient-centered approach to assess and identify patient needs and the most suitable innovative delivery method," she explains. "Meeting the needs of our patients is always foremost."