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Use Web sites to keep training up to date
The Internet can be an important tool to maximize precious training time and keep abreast of continual updates in medicine that affect your staff.
It doesn’t take a lot of high-end equipment or in-depth computer literacy to use the Internet for educational purposes, says Suzanne Hatch, BSN, MED, CPHQ, staff development coordinator and quality manager for Lee Visiting Nurse Associa tion in Lee, MA.
"I know nothing, basically nothing [about computers]," says Hatch, who has had Internet access in her office for about six months. "I just know that I want to get somewhere, so eventually if I ask enough questions, I find out."
Hatch often uses the Internet to help provide answers to medical questions from her staff. "They’ll say, I just got a referral, and I don’t a lot about this particular disease or this medication,’ and I’ll go on the Internet and pull up what I can and go from there."
She uses Web sites with search engines that allow her to type in a few words — the name of a disease, for example, or a medication — and look up all of the publications in which the words appear. A number of sites provide access to the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE data base of articles and abstracts. She can access the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine on the Web.
Hatch also uses a popular general-use search engine, Yahoo!, to look up information. In that case, she says it’s important to be sure the provider of the information is reputable, a point echoed by Robert Anderson of Anderson Management Associates in Windham, NH. "Agencies and organizations need to provide known quantities to the public, to their patients and to their staff," he says. You might want to visit the American Heart Association as an educational access point, for example, or the American Diabetes Association.
Using Yahoo!, Hatch looked up a rare lymphoma encountered by one of her nurses. "The American Cancer Society had a 26-page handbook for clinicians and patients that was absolutely excellent," she says. "It’s a very rare dis ease, and I had it right away. I had it before the nurse went out to make a home visit, and we could review all the information and learn new things that she needed to know.
She points to the timeliness of articles on the Internet, compared to what she could find in a medical textbook. "A lot of these things are updated in a very current way, in a way a textbook can’t be," Hatch says. "If something has a copyright of 1999, it was written in 1998. A lot of things could have happened in the meantime, but some of these Web sites are updated weekly with information."
Information found on line is useful for more than just handling individual cases. Hatch currently is putting together an inservice for home health aides on spinal cord injuries, using information she found on a Web site run by the National Spinal Cord Injury Association.
"They had material just at the exact level that I needed," Hatch says. "It’s for the layman — simple, very clear-cut language and yet covering all the things that are important. I printed out several of their chapters and have diagrams that I can blow up onto overhead transparencies, so I now have handouts and an outline for the inservice program that I want to see happen. From that point of view, that’s helped me." She’s already made an overhead transparency of a diagram of the spine she found on the site, for use in a recent back safety inservice.
Anderson says Web searches are just the start of using Internet technology in home health care training. Agencies can keep in touch with their peers and leaders in the field via e-mail and listservs, which are mailing lists that conduct running conversations on issues of mutual interest. Employees can sign up for interactive, on-line continuing education courses for certification.
"Someone can log on, do a home study course off of the Net, downloaded to their computer," Anderson says. "They can do the study, then can answer the questions back to the Web site. It passes them or fails them, it gives them a CEU [continuing education unit] certificate, and logs that certificate with the accreditation agency."
He suggests agencies begin building lines of communication with others in the home care community and use the Internet as a tool to help staff educate their patients. "We all know that an educated patient is going to do better because they’re going to understand their disease process, their care process, their medication issues."
Nurses can share information from the Internet with patients who may not have access themselves. Hatch says her agency already does some of that.
"We can find things that are excellent teaching tools and bring that to them," Anderson says. "Guidelines, disease process, clinical pathways — communication about all that is out on the Web already."
• Suzanne Hatch, BSN, MED, CPHQ, Staff Development Coordinator and Quality Manager, Lee Visiting Nurse Association, 21 High St., Lee, MA 01238. Phone: (413) 243-1212. Fax: (413) 243-4215.
• Robert Anderson, Anderson Systems Management Associates, 63 Range Road, Suite 202, Windham, NH 03087. Phone: (603) 894-6799.