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Resource centers can provide health care consumers information they need to become more informed, help them lead healthier lives, and enable them to make informed decisions. However, these benefits can only be realized if the center is user-friendly.
"Consumer information centers need to be patient-centered and organized with patient needs in mind," says Carol Maller, RN, MS, CHES, patient education coordinator at New Mexico Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System in Albuquerque. This includes providing enough floor space for physically challenged users to freely move around; shelving materials in such a way that they can easily be found; selecting timely titles that follow current news in the media; having models available that invite the visitor to hold, touch, feel, and experience; and learning stations that engage the user, she explains.
There are many elements that improve "user-friendliness," according to the experts. Following are a few essentials that should be kept in mind when creating a resource center designed for the health care consumer:
• Easy-to-find materials.
Label shelf topics in laypeople’s language, advises Arlen Gray, MA, family library coordinator at The Family Library of Egleston at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. For example, use heart for the cardiology section and cancer for the oncology section.
Whenever possible, place medical models near the books and videos on the topic, says Magdalyn Patyk, MS, RN, coordinator of patient education and nursing development at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. For example, place the kidney near the urinary tract section and the heart near the cardiac section. Medical models are great teaching tools, and the resource center at North-western Memorial has about 150 of them. "There is nothing like a three-dimensional piece of equipment that you can put your hands around and examine," she explains. (For information on providing health care consumers with the help they need, see "For best service, ask then ask again," in this issue.)
Health observance months are a great time to familiarize the public with the resources available at the center, says Patyk. Each month, the resource center at Northwestern Memorial has a health theme based on one of the national observances such as Men’s Health Month. At that time, the books, journals, models, and other resources on that topic are moved to the front of the center. "It adds interest and highlights the various resources we have," says Patyk. (For an idea on an observance month to feature, see "Drinking and driving: National health problem," in this issue.)
Multiple copies of pamphlets are arranged on shelves in broad categories so visitors to the resource center at The Ohio State University (OSU) Medical Center in Columbus can easily find them and take one, says Rebecca Mehling, MLS, librarian at the resource center. For example, there are eight shelves with cancer pamphlets. One shelf focuses on types of cancers and others on such topics as cancer treatments or the psychological aspects of cancer.
"With our books and videotapes, we use the Library of Congress classification system, which brings all the materials together that are on the same subject," says Mehling.
• Materials the average consumer can understand.
A wide range of information on the major conditions that are treated at either campus of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta are kept on hand at the consumer library, from the very basic to advanced clinical information. "I have a kids’ book of a heart that adults use to find out basic heart function," says Gray. However, she also has clinical textbooks written for physicians that are available for parents who want them.
It’s good to stock materials in multiple formats on various levels, says Patyk. At Northwestern Memorial, there’s everything from light consumer health information to professional medical journals. "We are primarily electronic, but our center has a lot of books, journals, audiotapes, and videotapes in addition to our multimedia computers."
To make the computers user-friendlier, Internet links are listed by categories on the health learning center home page. When people click on a category, such as treatments and tests, they find Internet links on that topic and each site listed has a description. In that way, it is easy to surf for information, explains Patyk.
• An inviting layout.
Pleasant and soothing colors combined with comfortable furniture creates an atmosphere at the resource center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston where parents can relax. This entices parents, often stressed by their child’s illness, into the center. Other consumer-friendly elements include a children’s play area with lots of toys and child-size furniture as well as resource materials for kids stocked on shelves at their height. A private viewing area makes it easy for parents to view videotapes on personal health topics, says Gray.
Privacy is important, agrees Patyk. At North-western Memorial, people have access to private rooms to speak with staff, listen to audiotapes, or watch videos. While most of the 20 computer stations are in open areas, a few have been designed for privacy as well.
• Convenient service hours.
"If the service you are providing is important enough to provide, and if the center is service-oriented, the hours that a center is open does reflect on its user friendliness," says Mehling. The resource center at The OSU Medical Center had split hours Monday through Thursday when it first opened. It was open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed for two hours, and open in the evenings from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. On Friday, the hours were 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and was closed on the weekends.
Statistics kept by staff showed that the center was not being used in the evening. Also, people were requesting access later in the afternoon and on weekends. To meet the needs of the consumers, the hours were changed to Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
When the center is closed, consumers can drop information requests in a box on the outside door or leave them via voice mail or e-mail. "Our goal is to have the information available within 24 hours of the time that it was requested," says Mehling.
• Learning stations that engage the user.
The focus of the Fountain of Healthy Living Learning Center at the New Mexico VA Health Care System is behavioral self-management; therefore, there are many things in place to engage the learner in new behaviors. For example, visitors can have their blood pressure taken via a machine and receive a digital readout. Blood pressure wallet cards are available to record the reading. A video scale allows the user to do a simple computer analysis to determine weight and calorie information.
Also, one personal computer (PC) is a dedicated glucometer station where the consumer can remove the microchip from their glucometer, connect the port to the PC, and follow a set of simple instructions to start the download. A copy of the results in a pie chart and log is printed for the consumer to take to his or her provider. "If the initial visit to the center is positive, there will be return visits as consumers become more engaged in an active role of caring for themselves and problem solving," says Maller.
For more information about creating a user-friendly resource center, contact:
• Arlen Gray, MA, Family Library Coordinator, Family Library of Egleston, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, 1405 Clifton Road N.E., Atlanta, GA 30322. Telephone: (404) 315-2611. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Carol Maller, RN, MS, CHES, Patient Education Coordinator, New Mexico VA Health care System, 1501 San Pedro Drive S.E., Albuquerque, NM 87108. Telephone: (505) 265-1711, ext. 4656. E-mail: email@example.com.
• Rebecca Mehling, MLS, Librarian, The OSU Medical Center, The Center for Health Information, 410 W. 10th Ave., Columbus, OH 43210. Telephone: (614) 293-3707. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Magdalyn Patyk, MS, RN, Coordinator, Patient Education, Nursing Development, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 251 E. Huron, Suite 4-708, Chicago, IL 60611-2908. Telephone: (312) 926-2173. Fax: (312) 926-1741. E-mail: email@example.com.