Outreach efforts focus on learning center

Teach underserved how to access resources

Patient education learning centers don't always meet the needs of underserved populations at medical centers because many don't know how to access the resources, or they don't realize that specific information on their disease is available. That's why Mary L. Gillaspy, MLS, MS, manager of health education at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has selected special materials for these audiences and has begun outreach programs that teach these groups how to access the resources. She has targeted African-Americans, Hispanics, and gays and lesbians, although she hasn't done much outreach yet to the latter two groups.

Her first efforts have been with African-Americans working with the Sisters Network, a group of breast cancer patients and survivors. The group has agreed to meet at the M.D. Anderson learning center bimonthly on Saturday afternoons.

"The purpose of the outreach effort is to make the resources available on a private basis to a medically underserved group that cannot always get to a place like the learning center during business hours. During our first effort, we hoped to achieve an awareness of the wealth of information available," says Gillaspy.

At the first meeting, Gillaspy introduced the women to the information available at the center, including videos and books that could be checked out, as well as magazines, newsletters, and computer resources. The next meeting will be an Internet workshop, with those in attendance pairing up at work stations. Curriculum will include a brief overview of the Internet, a demonstration of how to use a search engine, an explanation of how to navigate the Internet, and a brief discussion of how to evaluate the information accessed. "We'll look at a few selected sites and then invite the group to explore," says Gillaspy.

Although technology plays an important part in education, there are other interactive teaching methods that help people learn. "We have breast and testicular models for customers and patients to practice self-exams on," says Gillaspy. Also, the learning center has three learning stations with rotating exhibits.

"It's important not to forget that interactive learning resources don't have to be electronic or attached to a computer to be useful, attractive, and fun," says Gillaspy.