Patient Education and Health Literacy

Empowering patients and families to partner fully in their care

The Patient Experience: Focus on Education

by Stuart J. Murphy
volunteer member of the MGH General Patient and Family Advisory Council since 2014

PFACWhen I was asked to join the General Patient and Family Advisory Council (G-PFAC) four years ago, I was very excited. I was impressed by the concept of having patients and their family members serve as volunteer advisors to Mass General Hospital (MGH). I thought, “Who better to provide advice than those who have actually experienced
the services of the hospital?” Having had two recent operations,
both followed by hospital stays, I was eager to share my impressions,
most of which were very positive. I felt that perhaps this would help
the MGH staff consider additional ideas for improving the
patient experience.

However, a number of us who had joined the G-PFAC were concerned that our ideas and input might not be welcomed and appreciated by staff members. After all, we were just a group of lay volunteers with the mission of providing advice to professional employees with a great deal of expertise.

I am happy to report that this concern evaporated very quickly. Soon after the G-PFAC was established, we formed a number of sub-committees so members could focus on specific areas of interest and concern. One of those was devoted to the important topic of patient education. As my entire career has been in the field of educational publishing, I was very pleased to join that sub-committee.

It wasn’t long before Brian French, Director of The Maxwell and Eleanor Blum Patient and Family Learning Center (Blum Center) heard of the goals of the G-PFAC and realized that the Education Subcommittee could be an excellent resource for his team. The Blum team immediately saw the potential for a successful partnership and recognized the value of having direct input from patients and their family members into patient education efforts. 

PFACThe current members of the G-PFAC Education Subcommittee, in addition to myself, are Ann Galdos (chair), Robert Chen, Melissa Hoyt, Susan Keshian, Alexa Sherrill, Joyce Smith, and Carrie Stamos.

We began with a few introductory meetings to inform the members of the committee about the goals and operations of the Blum Center. We also learned about health literacy and the use of “plain language” so we could better react to materials from the point of view of patients from a wide variety of backgrounds. We provided input on a number of documents and brochures, including a resource guide for patients who are scheduled for spine surgery and an introductory letter for colonoscopy patients. We were then enlisted to review a series of health education videos. We are currently engaged in the development of a new poster for the Blum Center and the review of an important document on stroke education.

As we have continued to work together, we have grown into an effective and committed team and have developed a keen sense of mutual respect. The members of our sub-committee have seen that our input is well received and believe that we are adding value to this collaborative process. In this way, we feel that we are helping to support the ambitious MGH goal of Excellence Every Day.