MBA offers different view of patient education effort

A marketing approach to education

As patient and community education coordinator at Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver, Mary Paeth, MBA, RD, is responsible for community education events and inpatient education projects.

Paeth coordinates all the classes, presentations, and screenings the various departments at the medical center choose to offer the public. Although located in Washington, the health care facility is a suburb of Portland, OR, separated from this city only by a river. Its service area encompasses about 350,000 people.

In her role as community education coordinator, Paeth also links outside organizations with internal departments for outreach efforts.

In her inpatient role, she manages education projects for departments using written materials, videos, classes, or a program series.

"I serve as a consultant to those working on programs and projects," says Paeth.

As part of the education department, she works directly under the supervision of the director of education. The department also has a full- and part-time staff education coordinator, a librarian, and a librarian tech. A media specialist manages all the equipment, video, and PowerPoint for the education center. A full-time employee schedules conference rooms and equipment throughout the organization and another full-time employee does secretarial tasks such as tracking all mandatory staff education, registering people for classes and updating the patient education web site.

Paeth took her position in January 1998 part time and became full time in April of the same year. Before becoming a full-time patient education coordinator, she was managing the dietitians at the medical center. As a registered dietitian, Paeth has experience managing the food service department as well as clinical and community programs.

She also has a master’s in business administration with an emphasis in marketing and human resource management. Having the MBA has helped with patient education. "From a marketing perspective, what you are doing is taking something people may not know they have a need for and not only creating the need but leading them into what they need to know," says Paeth.

Although she had taught nutrition at the college level, when she was asked to take the position of patient and community education coordinator, she enhanced her knowledge by taking education classes at a local university.

In a recent interview with Patient Education Management, Paeth provided information about the lessons she has learned working in the field of patient education. Following is the information that she shared:

Question: What is your best success story?

Answer: "We implemented a housewide education system on the intranet and were a leader within our institution in getting that process going. We were able to move ahead with that technology piece and have the same information available housewide to staff and patients," she explains.

Southwest Washington Medical Center purchased Krames on Demand to supply many of the educational pieces for the intranet and created the material that was not part of the commercial system. A committee of nine staff people interested in patient education selected the program to use on the intranet, but physician committees and directors reviewed the materials to make sure everyone approved before it was implemented.

"When we brought the information on-line, we partnered with Information Systems and did a duo promotion where we went to all the units for all the shifts and showed staff the written material and how to access it," Paeth says.

Well suited for position

Question: What is your area of strength?

Answer: "I am an organizer and I network. I try to stay in touch with a wide variety of groups and projects to learn about their needs and what has worked well," she says.

To accomplish this, Paeth visits the units frequently to talk to staff. In this way, she learns what staff are doing, what the various departments are doing, and the programs on which they want to work.

By linking departments with pharmaceutical companies or businesses that have money to contribute, the medical center often is able to pilot a program for a year to see if it is effective. If it works, the program can then be rolled into the department’s budget. "Putting groups together for successful programs makes everyone a winner," she says.

Question: What lesson did you learn the hard way?

Answer: "Administrative support is the only way to change a culture; and I was very fortunate to have an administrator who wanted patient education to be a systemwide project, and she brought her directors together and allowed them to develop it," she says. "Trying to move it on your own is like trying to pick up Jell-O. As soon as you get one end up, the other end moves in a different direction without you."

To make things happen, patient education managers must be in tune with administration’s vision. It’s important to know administrator’s goals and what direction they have for your department, according to Paeth.

When she uncovers ideas in publications such as Patient Education Management, she lets administrators know that she thinks it looks like something the medical center might want to work on. They follow up with either a yes or no response.

"I am not just waiting for them to change the culture, but I give them ideas of how it can be done. I think that is part of my role."

Question: What is your weakest area?

Answer: "I think communicating, especially to the person who is going to hand information to the patient or is the one who will need to implement it or find it, is just a huge challenge," Paeth says.

A program can be up and running and have been written about in staff newsletters, discussed at staff meetings and posted, and there still will be someone who is unaware of it, she explains.

"You can never communicate enough and you are never done communicating. You can’t say we told them about that last year," she advises.

Question: What is your vision for patient education for the future?

Answer: "Our inpatient piece needs to be tied to community education and community providers. We need outpatient classes available for referral when someone is diagnosed and we need strong connections with the MD offices so they can refer to the classes and know about them."

Southwest Washington Medical Center has been successful with classes for joint replacement patients and diabetes but others are needed targeting a variety of disease states or situations such as asthma and congestive heart failure.

"I think the other thing is helping clinical staff understand adult education needs," Paeth says. "Health care clinicians tend to teach the way they were taught."

Knowing how many cigarettes it takes to cause cancer isn’t very motivating, but knowing that someone wants to play with their grandchildren and they might have better lung function if they don’t smoke might be motivating.

Question: What have you done differently since your last JCAHO visit?

Answer: "We have been reworking the documentation form to make it more efficient and conducting ongoing chart reviews for documentation of patient education and providing feedback on how people are doing."

The emphasis on documentation was started before the last JCAHO visit, however. She also wants to streamline education. Packets of information targeting various disease states are being assembled so that they can be distributed with the admission paperwork.

Question: When trying to create and implement a new form, patient education materials, or program where do you go to get information/ ideas from which to work?

Answer: "Everywhere. I ask the patednet listserv for their ideas. I always call an industry rep (hardware or pharmaceutical) and ask what they are seeing done elsewhere in their territory. I visit the units where we have patients on a repeat basis like cardiac rehab or the diabetes classes and ask for their suggestion or input. I go on the Internet and search for the topic and then contact the other hospitals that have similar programs to see what worked.

"I met a few key people at conferences who are experts on different topics and I run it by them if it is appropriate," Paeth continues. "We have a local group of health educators that meets quarterly, and the day I spend at the meeting provides me with great contacts and information.

"I work very closely with our marketing department to maximize everyone’s reach and keep our message consistent. They are also a great gatekeeper and send items my way that need to be reviewed by the patient education committee."


For more information about the topics discussed in this article, contact:

Mary Paeth, MBA, RD, Patient/Community Education Coordinator, Education Department, Southwest Washington Medical Center, P.O. Box 1600, 400 N.E. Mother Joseph Place, Vancouver, WA 98668. Telephone: (360) 514-6788. E-mail: