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If you build it, they won’t necessarily come
The Family Resource Center, a pediatric consumer health information library at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, has a multitude of books, videos, DVDs, and brochures on children’s health and wellness from birth to adolescents. Some of the materials are from an adult perspective, others from that of a child.
Information is stacked from the floor to ceiling, and Internet access provides an opportunity to retrieve resources beyond the four walls of the 600-square-foot facility.
When parents have questions about their child’s diagnosis, one of two pediatric nurses or the medical librarian who works part time at the library will pull together a packet of information and deliver it to the hospital room or mail it to the family. Staff fill about 260 requests each month. However, patrons were not rushing through the doors when the facility opened five years ago. When the library opened, it averaged about 300 patrons each month until marketing efforts boosted the number to 1,200.
The goal is to get the word out about the resources available at the library so staff will be able to get the information into the hands of the people, says Kimberly Crosby, RN, director of Guest Services at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. "We think there are a lot of people who still don’t know as much as they need to know about their child’s health, so we need to grow the business to increase their knowledge about their child’s health," she explains.
Frequently, children with complex disorders are admitted to the hospital. These disorders can be difficult to explain because the parents do not have knowledge of basic anatomy. For example, the child may have a complex cardiac defect, but the parents don’t understand the heart needs to have four chambers and how they work.
"If we can help them understand the basics, then they can begin to understand why their child’s defect is so serious. We really work hard to try to level the playing field and give them something to work from so they are equipped to ask intelligent questions and to be able to carry on a conversation with a physician to better make decisions for their child," says Crosby.
Strategies to increase business
To build business, staff members at the health information library introduce people to the services offered in a variety of ways. "We find that once a family has been a customer, they become a customer for life. We have a lot of repeat customers," says Crosby.
Following are a few of the marketing strategies used to increase business:
• Educate new employees.
During orientation, the nursing staff are told about the library and the resources that are available. They are encouraged to make referrals on behalf of the family. Also nurses are encouraged to telephone the library and request a packet of information on a particular diagnosis for a family. Once the packet is assembled, it is delivered to the hospital room and the family is told their nurse requested it on their behalf.
• Review admissions.
Each day, staff members at the library review the admission sheet to see if children with new diagnoses were admitted to the hospital. "We put together a packet and drop it off at the bedside because families may not even have a chance to consider what they don’t know. We include a brochure about the family resource center and invite them to visit us for more information," says Crosby. The charge nurses on the units also are contacted on a daily basis for a list of people with new diagnoses.
• Make rounds.
Often one of the staff members will go room to room asking families if they have heard of the family resource center. To draw them to the center, they’ll tell parents that they can check their e-mail. In addition to Internet access, people can send faxes, make copies, hook up their laptop computers, or make telephone calls. Once they are in the library, staff members use their customer service skills to help the families find any information they might need.
• Partner with departments.
Staff members at the library work with the various departments at the children’s hospital to stock brochures and books to benefit their patients. For example, the psychology department wants families with children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder to receive a certain booklet, but at a cost of $2 a piece, it is difficult for the psychology department to supply it. However, because the library is generously funded by the hospital foundation, it is able to keep the booklets in stock. Therefore, the psychology department refers families of patients with attention deficit disorder to the library for the brochure and, at that time, they are shown books on the subject that they might want to check out. "Their families get the information they need, and we get the referrals that we crave," says Crosby.
• Give presentations.
Staff members give presentations on library services to the nurses and pediatricians at clinics. The physicians’ offices are provided a small display board with brochures. The board has a reminder to refer patients to the library if they have questions. The same presentations are given to community groups such as parent and teacher organizations as well. These talks often establish connections with schools. The resource center will fax information to school nurses when they have a student with a particular disease and even prepare a packet for the nurse to drop in the students’ backpacks. "A couple of schools had children die, so we prepared packets for the counselors with information on dealing with the death of a child," says Crosby.
• Distribute marketing keepsakes.
The library purchases marketing materials such as pens with its logo and contact information and magnets consumers can stick on their refrigerator. "We send a magnet out with every packet that we prepare," she notes. While drawing people into the library provides an opportunity to put health information in the consumer’s hands, volume also brings the operating cost per patron down. Crosby creates reports and graphs with such data for upper management. "By looking at things like cost per patron, I am speaking in ways that my upper management understands. Using reports and graphs to show the benefits of the resource center is what will allow us to grow in size, hours, and staffing," she adds.
For more information about creating and increasing interest in a family resource center, contact:
• Kimberly Crosby, RN, Director of Guest Services, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, One Children’s Place, St. Louis, MO 63110. Telephone: (314) 454-2767. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.stlouischildrens.org.