Check content and platform before buying

Software must fit audience

When selecting teaching software, patient education managers should consider both the technical platform and the content of the program, says Karyn Pomerantz, MLS, MPH, librarian at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, DC. An institution must have the proper hardware to run multimedia programs. For example, a hospital will need computers with a CD-ROM drive and enough mega bites of RAM (random access memory) and hard drive space to run multimedia CDs. A computer will also need multimedia accessories such as speakers, she says.

Once you have determined that the program is compatible with your hardware, evaluate its ease of use, she advises. "Is it easy to navigate the program? Are there clear indications of how to proceed or how to branch to another part of the program?" asks Pomerantz.

The content must be appropriate to your patient population, says Barbara Kass, MPH, director of Fort Bliss Wellness Center at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, TX. She searches for software that is applicable to active young soldiers with a varied education level. "It can't be highly technical. It has to be at a sixth- to eighth-grade reading level," she says. Some soldiers are high school graduates, while others have a college education, Kass points out.

Evaluate how broadly the program covers the topic, advises Pomerantz. This will help you determine if it's appropriate for your audience. Is the information tailored for people new to the condition, patients who have been coping with an illness for a while, or both?

Also determine if it is culturally appropriate for your audience. For example, if you are purchasing a nutrition CD-ROM product, check to see if it incorporates the food from the different cultures represented by your patient groups, says Pomerantz.

As with written information, computer programs must present up-to-date, valid information from a reliable source, says Kass.