Set criteria for use of free materials

Question: Many drug companies offer free patient education pamphlets and videos. If you use all the materials you receive from several different companies, the patient can become confused because often the wording varies. What criteria do you use to evaluate free patient education materials? If you work with representatives from several companies that have pamphlets on the same topic — such as companies that sell insulin for diabetes — how do you determine which company’s education materials to use?

Answer: If a booklet or video is a sales pitch for a product, it is not even considered at most health care facilities, according to the experts interviewed by Patient Education Management. "The focus has to be on education," says Sandra Warren, MSN, RN, patient education coordinator at DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, AL. Yet with so many drugs on the market, it is difficult to create booklets and handouts in-house, she says.

Therefore, if there are several pamphlets and videos available from different drug companies, the interdisciplinary patient education committee critiques them and selects the best one. They look at content, reading level, and layout. If the pamphlet has lots of pictures and illustrations, the information is easier to understand and remember, says Warren.

To make sure content is accurate, the committee has the appropriate discipline review the material. For example, a video on the anticlotting drug Coumadin was reviewed by several people in the pharmacy department. Staff in nutritional services also reviewed the content of the video because it discussed food-drug interactions.

"We didn’t use many pamphlets from drug companies because many were written at a grade level that was too high for our patient population. Now they are producing many of the pamphlets at a lower grade level," says Warren.

Warren enters the copy into her computer so her software program can check the reading level. Even though the hospital is located in a university town, many patients don’t read well, so educational materials must be written on a fifth- to ninth-grade level, she says.

Any patient education materials used at Lexington (NC) Memorial Hospital must be applicable to the hospital’s cultural make-up, says Marie Muskovin, MSN, RN, director of education at the hospital. If the material fits the hospital’s patient population, and the brand name is not used throughout the booklet or video, it is considered.

"For the most part, I try not to use drug companies’ materials unless I know for sure that is the medication the patient will be using," says Muskovin. Currently, the hospital is developing an osteoporosis program. Because there is only one medication available for the condition, Muskovin reviewed the booklet and will use it to educate patients. She is using it because it is written at a sixth- to eighth-grade level in simple language without the use of undefined medical terms. Also, the booklet gives patients the information they need to understand their disease and be involved in self-care.

If storage space is not a problem, patient education managers could use several companies’ materials and have staff match the pamphlet to the product the patient will be using at home, says Muskovin. However, it is tough to monitor staff, and a busy nurse could just grab a booklet and hand it to the patient, she warns. When cost is a factor, Muskovin advises patient education managers to create teaching sheets on drugs, which can be copied for pennies.

Of course, hospitals who have a contract with a specific drug company would be obligated to use the company’s pamphlets if they fit hospital criteria, says Muskovin. Otherwise, the materials should be purchased or created in-house, she says.

A policy for the review of patient education materials will keep free literature from being distributed on a unit without approval, says Loretta Olson, RN, MEd, patient education coordinator at Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, NE. Occasionally, a staff member might go to a conference and bring back educational materials that are handed out without being reviewed.

However, all departments know that materials must be reviewed by the education department first. If they aren’t, staff won’t be able to order more of the materials since ordering goes through the education department, says Olson. "We look to see if the company meets the basic rules of patient education in terms of being factual, logical, and if the people in the photos are similar to our clientele," says Olson. Often, she considers what she might have done differently if she had created the pamphlet in-house to help determine whether to use it.

Olson doesn’t toss the rejected pamphlets but keeps them in a folder instead. She uses them as examples when creating pamphlets in-house.

Drug companies are one of the last resources for free materials, says Joan MacRae, BSN, MSN, patient education coordinator at Hartford (CT) Hospital. Because commercial companies want hospitals to use their materials, many are putting disclaimers on their videos that state that the hospital does not endorse any products, says MacRae. However, Hartford Hospital does not consider educational materials with or without a disclaimer if it endorses a product. "If the information is general in nature, we do allow a statement such as ‘provided courtesy of Abbott Labs,’" she says.