Observance dates tailored to in-house activities

Pick events that target your patient population

Education awareness events aren't just for community outreach at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The patient education office uses the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Observance Calendar to plan events for patients and staff in-house.

The observances selected are relevant to patients, and in addition, there must be clinical staff or other support staff able to assist.

"We rely a lot on collaboration," says Lorianne Classen, MPH, CHES, health education specialist, patient education office at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. This includes expertise on the clinical topic and providing buy-in throughout the institution.

Every year, the same events are hosted so people become familiar with them. They include Health Education Week, Fatigue Week, the Great American Smokeout, and Diabetes Awareness Day. Due to the fact that the events are repeated, extra effort needs to be made to be creative, says Classen.

Creativity is easily addressed by forming a committee that has a mix of people who have worked on the event in previous years, so they know what worked and what didn't, and inviting new people with fresh ideas to take part, says Classen.

Committee members are selected from every department that would be a good partner in the project. For example, for Health Education Week, a representative from clinical nutrition, social work, integrative medicine, public education, and the learning center take part in the planning. They meet once a month, with planning meetings beginning six to eight months in advance, says Classen.

"The patient education office sponsors the week, pays for the event, and does the planning. The committee helps with the ideas, coming up with new and fun ways of having events. It is a collaborative effort," she says.

To make planning easier, the same format is followed for each event every year. During Fatigue Awareness Week, Monday is devoted to a health fair, often hosted in two locations that are high-traffic areas to draw attention. On Tuesday, a lunchtime program on fatigue is offered in partnership with the Anderson Network, a group of volunteers who are cancer survivors. This group provides lunch. On Wednesday, a staff function is offered that includes a lecture for continuing education credits. On Thursday, another patient event takes place. This past year, a panel discussion was provided with patients who had been cared for at the fatigue clinic as featured speakers. Also, a video was shown in the afternoon, followed by a speaker who discussed ways to conserve energy.

"The purpose of the awareness week is to let patients who are suffering from fatigue know there are things they can do. A lot of patients don't know we have a fatigue center, a place that focuses on that side effect. They may not be able to make the fatigue go away, but they can help the patient manage it," says Desiree Gonzales Phillips, CHES, the senior health education specialist that oversees Fatigue Awareness Week at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Focus is awareness

Increasing awareness is the main focus of the events hosted in-house.

"Increased awareness on a topic or issue is one of the benefits of holding events," says Chesley Cheatham, MEd, CHES, the health education specialist that oversees Diabetes Awareness Day.

At the 2009 event, which was hosted as a health fair, many of the people who attended were unaware of the signs and symptoms of high blood sugar, says Cheatham.

To determine whether the event has been beneficial, the health specialist in charge must complete an evaluation.

To evaluate the success of the health fair focusing on diabetes, Cheatham counted the number of people who were screened for diabetes, how many had elevated blood sugar, how many came by each booth, and whether they picked up materials or asked for more information about a product or medication. The number of referrals made to the diabetes educator was also counted.

Classen tracks the number of people participating in each event and also hands out evaluation forms to participants who attend classes or presentations.

During Fatigue Awareness Week, Gonzales Phillips gets information on the impact of the health fair by offering a door prize. Everyone who completes a questionnaire or survey has their name placed in the drawing.

Determining how well the various activities within the event were attended helps determine if the time and effort in planning was well spent, says Classen. Promoting an event is the most difficult part, she adds.

The economic downturn has reduced budgets, so planners can no longer offer lunch to staff who attend lunchtime presentations. Drawing crowds with giveaways is no longer possible, either. Many patients liked the bags, blankets, gift certificates, and water bottles that were purchased with donations from pharmaceutical companies, but that source of funding has shrunk, says Gonzales Phillips.

"We still do giveaways but in a limited way, coming up with creative ways to distribute limited resources," she says.

Should patient education managers take advantage of health observance months? Yes, says Classen. "Promotional events are great if your main goal is awareness."

Cheatham adds, "Don't let budgets or time constraints stop you. I think you will find it beneficial for the population you reach."


For more information about the use of health observance dates in-house, contact:

• Chesley Cheatham, MEd, CHES, Health Education Specialist, Patient Education Office, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX. Telephone: (713) 745-6752. E-mail: cwcheath@mdanderson.org.

• Lorianne Classen, MPH, CHES, Health Education Specialist, Patient Education Office, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX. (713) 563-8185. LClassen@mdanderson.org.

• Desiree Gonzales Phillips, CHES, Sr. Health Education Specialist, Patient Education Office, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX. Telephone: (713) 563-8184. E-mail: ddgonzal@mdanderson.org.