Give staff a puzzling problem

Fun and games help attract people to the event

By Linda Matula Schwartz, SLA

Librarian, Learning Resource Center

St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network

Allentown, PA

At St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network in Allentown, PA, our patient education advisory committee has been striving to organize and ensure the quality of patient education materials being distributed throughout our facilities.

To further the effort, we decided to plan an educational event to be held during Health Literacy Week. The annual Health Education Week also would be a good time. The goals of our event were to:

• remind the staff of the importance of patient education;

• introduce staff to the importance of health literacy and its effect on patient teaching;

• stress the importance of documenting patient teaching;

• familiarize the staff with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations’ requirements on patient and family education;

• remind the staff of the network process for approving patient education materials regardless of whether they are written by our staff or come from outside sources.

Posters that storyboarded our network’s patient education process and health literacy issues already were available. We had authoring guidelines for those wanting to write patient education materials. We had an index of approved materials and forms to order them. An issue of our nursing newsletter devoted to patient education was ready to be distributed.

What we needed was a theme to tie our information together and some motivators (freebies and food) to encourage our staff to learn more about patient teaching. Our subcommittee held a brainstorming session and chose a theme, "Patient Education: We’re ALL part of the solution," that stressed interdisciplinary responsibility for patient education.

An image was created in PowerPoint to reflect our theme. Using free clipart from the Medword Web site,1 colorful health care "people" became our symbol. Our photography department enlarged the image, transferring it to foam poster board, and made one for each campus. We used this image to create a puzzle so that we could entice people from each department to attend the event to return their puzzle piece and win a prize.

We cut the poster board into large puzzle pieces with utility knives and numbered each one on the back. A record of the numbers and which department received each piece was kept. We were lucky to have the resources to make the puzzle this way, but we could have had a local printer make the foam poster too.

A flyer describing our Health Literacy Education Week activities was distributed to all departments one week prior to the event. Puzzle pieces were distributed to patient care departments a day or two before the big day. On each campus, a display area just outside the cafeteria was chosen as the best location to reach a high volume of physicians and employees.

Departments were asked to bring their puzzle piece to the cafeteria to help solve the puzzle. Returning the puzzle piece automatically entered the department into a drawing for a grand prize. Individuals were offered handout quizzes to complete in order to "win" small prizes of candy.

Handouts were distributed on health literacy and the importance of documenting patient teaching. Guides to patient teaching were displayed, as were examples of patient materials written at various reading levels. Participants were encouraged to browse and compare the items. Our previously prepared posters on the patient education approval process and health literacy were displayed. A follow-up flyer was planned to inform all employees throughout the network of the departmental and individual prizewinners. (See examples of handouts and materials used for informal teaching, inserted in this issue.)

Among the three campuses, approximately 425 people participated in the event — either by bringing their department’s puzzle piece or by stopping by for handouts. Employees stopping at the display often inquired whether their department’s puzzle piece had been returned and went back to their departments to get it if it hadn’t been turned in.

Excluding staff time, the cost for the entire campaign was reasonable — about $300. Costs incurred included prizes, puzzles, handouts, and candy. The most time-consuming part was cutting the puzzle pieces out and labeling/numbering them for the departments. Ideas for prizes should center on items that can be shared among the department employees. We used gift baskets of goodies, but bags or boxes of candy and coupons for a pizza party also were considered. Individual prizes were figurines and, appropriately, jigsaw puzzles, which were donated.

Physicians at one campus stopped at the display before a lunchtime conference. Using the materials they picked up on the way in, they questioned the sales representative giving the conference as to the reading level of the patient education materials she distributed. Later, she visited our display herself to get information on health literacy.

At another campus, a group of student nurses came to the display with their instructor. Their task for the day included care planning for an inpatient with a literacy problem about his discharge care.

The committee deemed the event a rousing success. Plans will be made to continue our efforts on at least an annual basis.


1. An on-line resource for medical illustrations. Web site:

For more information on creating a program to educate staff about health literacy, contact:

Linda Matula Schwartz, SLA, Librarian, Learning Resource Center, St. Luke’s Hospital Allentown Campus, 1736 Hamilton St., Allentown, PA 18104. Telephone: (610) 770-8355. Fax: (610) 770 8736. E-mail: