Development of Health Education Services at Palo Alto Medical Clinic
Helping patients understand how to prevent and manage health conditions is a key component of good medical care. But rarely is the physician able to provide comprehensive information in the space of an individual medical appointment. When the Palo Alto Medical Foundation was created in 1981, its solution was to include a separate division to handle health education.
Dedicated health education services actually started at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic in 1974, several years before the Foundation was formed and well before the concept caught on elsewhere. The program was the idea of an outside educator named Rosalind Hawley, founder of a company called Core Communications in Health. Seeing the Clinic as a leader in preventive medicine, Hawley chose it as one of four organizations nationwide to pilot a new type of education center, where patients would use audiovisual materials to learn about chronic conditions, surgical procedures and preventive health care. Within a few years, the center also added group programs and classes on parenting, weight management, relaxation skills and other topics.
Studies conducted at the Clinic indicated that health education paid off. In 1978, Clinic rheumatologist Ronald Kaye published research in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association that showed 94 percent of patients surveyed felt the center had benefited them. Surveys also found that the education center's smoking-cessation programs had a 40 percent success rate over a two-year period. When the Foundation was formed, patient education became an important part of its mission, and in 1994, the Board of Trustees adopted a sweeping plan for a "fully integrated education program" to improve preventive care further as more patients enrolled in managed care plans. The plan expanded the Education Division's budget and staff, and called for the creation of a large health education conference room when the Foundation's new Palo Alto campus opened in 1999.
Today, the Education Division offers a wide range of support groups and classes open to the entire community. Lectures, which cover topics such as hip replacement, prostate cancer and travel medicine, are often filled beyond capacity. The Foundation collaborates with local organizations on bike-helmet fittings, teen drug-use prevention and other health campaigns, and directs financial and in-kind donations to area health-related projects. Patients and community members can also get information through the Community Health Resource Center at the Palo Alto Clinic and Family Health Resource Center at the Fremont Center. Both are staffed by nurse educators who help visitors navigate books, videos and the Internet to learn more about particular medical conditions – a modern extension of the Clinic's original patient education service.