Patient Education Quarterly

These aren’t your usual patient ed committees

Is your patient and family education committee being put to good use? There’s no need to limit committee members to serving as gatekeepers or a review board for written brochures or educational resources. Patient education committees can improve patient education in many innovative ways.

"An interdisciplinary committee can best identify barriers to education, propose and test solutions, and implement changes in the system. They share information with and collect feedback from the whole organization. No one person, or one department, can accomplish what representatives from the entire system can do," says Fran London, RN, MS, health education specialist at The Emily Center at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and a member of the hospital’s patient/family education council.

Patient education committees can provide a broad view, and those disciplines involved will help keep the importance of education at the forefront in their patient care area. When you have more people incorporated, it isn’t some isolated manager in an office trying to touch every base and connect with every person, says Linda Kocent, RN, MSN, coordinator of patient-family education at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Committees keep the work manageable as well, she says. At The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, there are 12 decentralized, specialty-based committees that work in specific areas and a patient education steering committee that provides oversight and guidance as well as institutionwide directives. The steering committee consists of a leadership person from each discipline and the chair of each decentralized committee. Kocent sits on all 13 committees.

"I make sure that each knows what others are doing as needed, and prevent duplication of efforts. I help them see that patient and family education is more than writing handouts, and help them think outside the box.’ It is incredibly time-consuming, but worth it in results."

Each year, the decentralized committees identify needs and set goals to present to the steering committee and report on prior work. "The specialty-based committees usually come up with ideas based upon a need they identify within their group," says Kocent. For example, a teaching need might be identified within an area so the committee will initiate the writing of new curriculum for a class taught at the learning center. A clinical expert, usually an advance practice nurse, will be selected by the committee to write the curriculum and work with learning center staff to ensure that they are competent to teach the content.

Every group identifies projects pertinent to their area. Currently, the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) committee is developing a photo book to use with siblings of patients prior to their visit to the PICU as part of the Child Life visitation program. When it became apparent that families no longer had time to bring their children to the hospital for pre-surgery tours, the surgery committee created a virtual pre-op surgery tour that parents and children can access via the Internet at home. If one of the specialty committees determines that something electronic would enhance patient education, they invite the health care institution’s web team to a committee meeting, and the team helps them work through the process.

To promote family literacy, the primary care committee developed posters with tear-off slips that connect families to the mayor’s commission on literacy for free reading classes. The committee also is beginning to work on children’s books on health care to support the literacy campaign. The books will be written very simply so that low- literacy adults can read to their children, thus improving their skills and reinforcing the importance of reading in the eyes of their children.

There are certain patient education issues that pertain to all specialty areas such as measuring outcomes or compliance with the patient education standards set by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization (JCAHO). In these cases, all committees design projects pertaining to their specialty. For example, for measuring outcomes, the cardiac services committee is looking at whether the learning needs of cardiac surgery patients are met before they are discharged from the cardiac intensive care unit instead of the step-down unit. To meet JCAHO standards this year, all committees are looking at how to incorporate pain as the fifth vital sign in their area and document it, says Kocent.

While Phoenix Children’s Hospital has only one committee with 15 interdisciplinary members, it serves as a patient education committee, JCAHO oversight committee, and quality improvement team for process improvement initiatives relating to patient and family education. "The work of all three functions overlap, and we usually address them all at each meeting," says London. The three functions include:

Patient/family education. The group coordinates patient and family education activities throughout the organization. The most extensive project in this category has been the revision of the interdisciplinary education record, which took two years to complete. To create a form that staff would use, committee members surveyed all those who document patient education, such as nurses and social workers.

Joint Commission oversight. In this category, committee members conduct chart reviews to assess patient education compliance with JCAHO standards, identify what improvements need to be made, implement them, and prepare for JCAHO visits. As part of the preparation, the committee plans staff education activities to address problems.

Quality improvement team. This team’s mission is to improve patient and family satisfaction scores relating to education. To achieve this goal, it has looked for root causes for problems relating to patient and family education, examined possible interventions, and proposed the hiring of a patient education coordinator and assistant to implement the committee’s proposals.

The positions for coordinator and assistant were piloted and made permanent. Improvements have included a distribution system for teaching materials, and a partnership with the nursing education department to facilitate staff education on patient and family education skills.