Using creativity in patient education

Educator discusses creating materials on a budget

Laura Gebers, BSN, RN, BC, has a wealth of experience in the field of patient education. Currently, she is Patient Care Services programs health education coordinator for Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, NJ. She also has worked as health education coordinator at Community Medical Center in Toms River, NJ, and as a member of the patient education committee in the home health and hospice industry.

In her current position, Gebers is responsible for all patient and health education within the 161-bed specialty hospital, which includes reviewing, developing, and approving resource materials. Although the facility uses Micromedex CareNotes and DrugNotes, it also has 400 in-house educational documents that Gebers has cataloged and made available via the facility’s intranet.

Gebers also oversees community outreach. She determines if requests from outside organizations for speakers meet the criteria of the health care facility; if they do, she secures the speaker most qualified to address the topic. In addition, she coordinates health fairs and screenings.

She works with a cultural diversity and sensitivity committee to educate staff on these issues. Because Deborah is a specialty facility, patients come for heart, lung, and vascular procedures from throughout the United States and all over the world.

Gebers is in charge of the support groups for Deborah Heart and Lung Center, including the Zipper Club, where patients who have had open heart surgery meet with people having a similar procedure to help them through a difficult time.

To help her with her duties, she has an administrative assistant and several volunteers. "Health education is interdisciplinary, so I meet with many of the [staff working with different medical] disciplines, and there are people that I can go to and elicit their support," says Gebers.

In a recent interview with Patient Education Management, Gebers discussed her job, her philosophy on patient education, the challenges she has met, and the skills she has developed that help her do her job well.

Q: What is your best success story?

A: "While at Community Medical Center, I was part of an interactive Internet-based education program that allowed us to roll a computer kiosk into a patient’s room to provide education on cardiac problems, women’s health, and orthopedics. Patients viewed an educational video and took a test. If they answered the questions incorrectly, they were tutored until they answered the questions right.

"At the end of the session, the information was uploaded to a patient’s personal Internet web page that they could access at home. In this way, they were able to continue their education. Also, health care providers could view the patient’s progress and make more learning modules available to the patient via the web site."

When the company that produced this product folded, Gebers obtained money to continue to use the content on the computers in the kiosks. She added an introduction to the video that welcomed the patient to the medical center and encouraged him or her to watch the video. She also added a closing that discussed the resources available at the health care facility and what the patient’s follow-up treatment might be.

In addition, she secured a program called "Deaf Talk" so the computer-enabled kiosks could be used to access an interpreter to sign for deaf patients in emergency situations.

Q: What is your area of strength?

A: "I really like to do things that other people have not yet done, so I am always thinking outside the box. I try to determine how to do something differently, how to do something better to improve a process, and how to reach my consumer. That can be other health care providers within the facility that are involved with patient education, or it can be the patients and community at large."

A good example of Gebers’ thinking is her above-mentioned idea for a new use for the facility’s computers and kiosks when the company that produced the interactive Internet-based education product folded. Gebers also submitted educational videos produced in-house in collaboration with Action Media Productions to national awards competitions. The facility won an award for these videos, and the company that provided funding for the videos realized it was a quality product and provided additional funding. This was a way to get funding for projects when no money was budgeted for them.

Q: Are there special problems you still need to overcome?

A: "Even though we have a plethora of materials available, whether hard copy, intranet, videos, CDs, or even support groups, some health care providers don’t take the time that is really necessary to provide these educational materials for our patients, and that is very disheartening."

Although educational resources are promoted, chart reviews show they are underused. Deborah has received recognition from the New Jersey Peer Review Organization for exceptional patient education efforts with all indicators reviewed.

Q: What is your weakest link or greatest challenge?

A: "I think, overall, not having the financial support [for] the technology needed to bring information to the public is a weak link. There are so many things I would like to do with community outreach."

For example, a partnership between Deborah Heart and Lung Center and Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company, has resulted in screenings that help consumers determine their risk of having a cardiac event within the next 10 years. Based upon these results, patients often undergo healthy behavior changes, such as losing weight, eating more nutritious meals, stopping smoking, and getting their cholesterol under control. With a laptop computer and a printer, Gebers can conduct these screenings herself without having to rely on the pharmaceutical company.

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

A: "I would like to see health education accessible for anyone who wants the material. I think if we would have kiosks in the malls where consumers would be able to do blood pressure screenings and use a touch screen to learn about a particular diagnosis or treatment, people might be more encouraged to see their physician. Once they learn that a treatment involves a physician visit or health practitioner interaction, they would be more likely to make an appointment."

Currently, Deborah Heart and Lung Center offers "Ask a Question" on its web site to help reach people who are ready to learn.

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

A: "The whole survey is different. In the past, I needed to create evidence books so that no matter what the standard was, I had all the documents ready to go to support our position on how we were meeting and exceeding the expectations within a certain standard. Now the surveyors are using what is called tracer methodology, where they follow a patient from admission through discharge. The Joint Commission is looking to see that in each area the standards are met, thus heightening staff awareness of the importance of documenting completely before sending a patient to another area."

To improve communication, Gebers recently revised the interdisciplinary documentation sheet, which makes it easy to determine what was taught, who did the teaching, and the current educational needs of the patient. Deborah Heart and Lung Center will be surveyed in January 2005.

Q: When you implement a new program or create new materials, where do look for information and ideas?

A: "A lot of it is experience. I have a wealth of experience as far as preparing and presenting programs. Sometimes I will contact another colleague. I attend national conferences every year and find that they are very informative. Conferences are great for networking and a good way to become informed."


For more information about using creativity in patient education, contact:

  • Laura Gebers, BSN, RN, BC, PCS Programs Health Education Coordinator, Deborah Heart and Lung Center, 200 Trenton Road, Browns Mills, NJ 08015. Telephone: (609) 893-1200, ext. 5258. E-mail: