Educator Profile

Build a solid patient education program

People skills and timeliness prove helpful traits

Laurel D. Spooner, RN, BSN, is one of five education coordinators at Winter Haven (FL) Hospital, which is part of Mid-Florida Medical Services. In her role, she oversees organizational patient education and coordinates continuing medical education. Other coordinators oversee other aspects of education such as diabetes education.

Patient education encompasses a variety of things including oversight of the corporate patient education committee, which meets monthly; a monthly chart audit of 10 open charts to determine adherence to the standards implemented by the Oakbrook Terrace, IL-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations; overseeing the computerized patient education software used throughout the organization and the programming for the closed-circuit TV channel; and acting as a consultant to other health care professionals in developing patient education materials.

Oversight of the CME coordination includes the monthly agenda of educational offerings, the budget process, maintaining CME files, and compiling an annual report.

Spooner also teaches the basic cardiac monitor arrhythmia classes 10 times a year. She has been in her position for 13 years, and has worked for Winter Haven Hospital 34 years.

All education coordinators in the 527-bed hospital report to the director of education. The education department also has a secretary, an office manager, a media specialist, and a research specialist. Before taking a position as education coordinator Spooner worked in med-surg and critical care, and she had been a certified critical care nurse (CCRN) for 16 years.

"Whether in med-surg or critical care, you are always teaching patients and families things they need to know to take care of themselves. The job of education coordinator gave me the leeway to grow and learn something different and still see that patients get what they need to know to be able to take care of themselves," she says.

In a recent interview with Patient Education Management, Spooner discussed her philosophy on patient education, the challenges she has met, and the skills she has developed to help her to do her job well.

Question: What is your best success story?

Answer: "The corporate patient education committee (we didn’t have one before), the consumer health library, the closed-circuit TV with the patient education channels, and the MicroMedex Care Notes, which is the computerized patient education software.

"Inspiration for both the patient education committee and consumer health library came from colleagues I met at conferences of the American Society for Health Education, which is now the Health Care Education Association, based in Amarillo, TX. I talked to the administration, and both came about. Space for consumer information was earmarked in the medical library first, and currently space dedicated to a consumer library has been set-aside in the lobby, which is being renovated.

"We have two channels with educational videos and information on closed-circuit television [CCTV] and a third channel with soothing music and photos. During the night, only the care channel is available on CCTV so that those patients trying to sleep will not be disturbed. The patient education committee, with advice from pharmacy and other disciplines, selected the patient education software that makes it possible to distribute patient education materials via the intranet."

Question: What is your area of strength?

Answer: "People skills and timeliness. Obviously with a committee — whether the patient education committee or CME committee — you have to have skills to be able to compromise, negotiate with others, and yet still be able to facilitate and lead them in the right direction or come up with a solution that meets everyone’s needs. Also, I am one of those [people who], if you tell me we need something by a certain deadline, do my best to get it done on time."

Question: What lesson did you learn the hard way?

Answer: "The one I am trying to learn is not to sweat the small stuff. There are lots of different things that happen on a day-to-day basis that, if you keep thinking about them, they could do you in. Therefore, you need to put your efforts into things you can actually change. For example, if you are working on a project, you can’t own it because it is not really yours. It belongs to everyone. Maybe my goals or expectations are higher than others, so I need to learn to compromise."

Question: What is your weakest link or greatest challenge?

Answer: "Documentation of patient education, which I do not think is unique. It is getting staff to take credit for what they do. In my heart, I think they do a lot of education, but then they just forget to take credit for it. Also, decreased staff in our department — over the years, our staff has been decreased, and then those who are left have to take on other duties."

Question: What is your vision for patient education for the future?

Answer: "Getting others to think global and not just about their department or their area. It makes sense that they focus in their area or discipline, but in order to get patient education done, you have to work with others. It is not one department or one person; it is everyone’s job. Sometimes, it is hard convincing people that we all need to work together to get patient education done."

Question: What have you done differently since your last JCAHO visit?

Answer: "Since I have been on the chart review team, I have been reporting the patient education statistics to the patient education committee and also, through that committee, we are reporting them to other specific areas. For example, we are looking to see if there is evidence that education standards from the Joint Commission are documented in the chart. I bring the overall data back to the corporate patient education committee, and we look at both positive and negative examples. Some areas may be doing better than others, and we might be able to adapt their strategies to improve documentation someplace else. Also, we have been revising a form that provides cues to the staff to document patient education."

Question: When trying to create and implement new forms, patient education materials, or programs, where do you get information and ideas?

Answer: "Obviously, you have to think about the regulatory agencies — their standards that you have to comply with — and look at their resource materials. I get a lot of ideas from the patient education listserv because there are wonderful ideas and examples people share. I print the forms that I think may be of use to us. When we were revising the patient education form, I pulled a lot of the examples of forms that people had put out on the patient education listserv. We looked at those along with some of the resources from other regulatory places to come up with what we thought would serve our institution."


For more information about the ideas and issues covered in this article, contact:

Laurel D. Spooner, RN, BSN, Education Coordinator, Winter Haven (FL) Hospital. Telephone: (863) 297-1706. E-mail: