Committee links help in managing patient ed

Veteran educator shares tricks of the trade

As program director of patient and family education at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the role of Virginia Forbes, MSN, RN, includes the planning, direction and evaluation of patient education activities throughout this 2,300-bed academic medical center in New York City. To manage this, she chairs an interdisciplinary advisory committee to oversee the patient education program. She also works with multiple subcommittees and task forces to achieve goals.

The committee structure is vital in managing the patient education program in such a large facility, says Forbes. "The successes are always the result of a tremendous team effort rather than the result of an individual’s work," she says.

This team effort also must be backed with strong administrative support and active expert participation to ensure those standards of practice and the requirements from accrediting, and regulatory agencies are met.

Some of the other duties in her position include:

  • establishing and oversee the process for the review and approval of resources;
  • facilitating the development of interdisciplinary patient education documentation forms and teaching protocols;
  • designing and participating in patient education research projects;
  • providing consultation guidance and direction in the development, implementation, and evaluation of materials and programs;
  • providing direction and guidance to departments and persons writing grant proposals for patient education.

Although Forbes works with interdisciplinary and intradisciplinary teams to achieve goals she reports to the chief nursing officer, vice president of patient care services. She has been in her position for six years; however, she has been involved with patient education activities and programs in other hospital settings during the past 15 years.

Her nursing background also has included a variety of clinical, education, and administrative roles, including director of education and assistant vice president of nursing in other organizations. She has a BSN and MSN in nursing administration.

Over the years, she has been certified as a clinical specialist and also has held certifications in nursing administration, staff development, medical surgical nursing, and intravenous therapy. Forbes has been an adjunct professor in nursing and has presented in various forums nationally on mentoring in nursing, patient education, and staff development. She is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society, Health Care Education Association, The New York Coalition for Health Information Access, and is on the advisory board for Healthtv.

Sharing lessons learned

In a recent interview with Patient Education Management, Forbes 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: Creating an intranet-based central repository of patient education standards, practice guidelines, and approved resources for this organization with the collaboration of an interdisciplinary advisory committee with multisite representation.

One of the big difficulties in an organization this size is to communicate effectively. Having an intranet-based patient education web site where staff can go to for guidelines, forms, processes, and approved resources is helpful.

Some of the information is also in paper format via a Patient and Family Education Handbook, which is kept on every clinical unit. There also is a 54-page catalog describing current education programs and support groups that are available. Making information available to staff in different formats helps to promote access and communication.

Question: What is your area of strength?

Answer: To be effective in this role, team-building skills and effective communication are essential. I constantly aim to further increase my ability in these areas. It is an ongoing process and essential to success.

It is important that team members realize how integral they are to the success of a project, she says. I am really a facilitator for the experts. They are the ones that truly make things happen.

My strength is helping others identify needs and determine, who, what, when, and where someone needs to be involved in a process and then give them the support they need to get the job done.

Question: What lesson did you learn the hard way?

Answer: Over the years I’ve found it important to make sure expectations are clear and processes realistic, inclusive, and collaborative. Outcomes can only be enhanced when goals are defined and the team has the right participants working together toward a common goal.

Question: What is your weakest link?

Answer: In this organization, the links are only as weak as the communication mechanisms that bring them together. Since it is hard to communicate effectively in such a large organization, I am constantly striving to improve that. I approach the task by using multiple means to get the word out. To do this, I:

  • use the hospital intranet as a cornerstone and home base for patient education guidelines, resources, articles, news, and links to other approved resources. Keeps the site changing and updated in order to maintain interest and use.
  • maintain and disseminate updates to the Patient Education Handbook and Catalog in paper format for users who prefer that mode of access.
  • use meetings, minutes, reports, global e-mail, bulletins, memos, flyers, inservice, and surveys to increase awareness and knowledge.

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

Answer: In a perfect world, I envision that providers will have every means at their disposal for providing concise, accurate, and clear information in multidimensional modes, which include a variety of teaching methods, styles, and resources, in multiple languages.

Second, I hope that all patients or their family members are able to become strong personal advocates partnering with their providers in the management of their health care.

Third, I envision that more local and national groups and organizations will be able to merge into consortiums that can share resources, plan programs, conduct research, evaluate the effectiveness of patient teaching, promote health literacy, and create bridges for consumers to access information and support with their communities. The collaboration might include health care and academic institutions, departments of health, libraries, national organizations, individual providers, and consumers.

Question: What have you done differently since your last Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations visit?

Answer: New York-Presbyterian Hospital did well overall when surveyed in the fall of 2002. Therefore, significant changes have not been made since the last survey. However, the visits make you look very hard at what you are doing. Not surprisingly, as you prepare, you find many strengths and weaknesses in systems, structures, support mechanisms, and outcomes. It is always a valuable learning experience, she says.

We recognize that to truly be successful, we must not be survey outcomes-driven, but rather internally driven to achieve excellent patient outcomes.

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

Answer: I’ve always found that health educators, librarians, and clinicians are very willing to share ideas, successes, problems, forms, and outcomes. Therefore, colleagues have been a tremendous source of information and guidance over the years.

I also use a variety of resources for materials and programs, including internal and external experts, overall hospital goals, review of research, journal articles, current public health issues, specific patient survey outcomes, patient satisfaction surveys, focus groups, quality improvement studies, and significant events research.

We also have the opportunity to use excellent libraries on site, which are the Weill Cornell Medical Library and the Columbia Health Sciences Library.


For more information on committee links, contact:

  • Virginia Forbes, MSN, RN, Program Director of Patient and Family Education, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, 525 E. 68th St., New York, NY 10021. Telephone: (212) 746-4094. E-mail: