The Learning Center: Where cancer patients go for answers
How do I download MD Anderson’s app? Which medical websites can I trust? Where can I find the latest research on my disease?
The information experts at MD Anderson’sThe Learning Center get questions they can’t always answer by pulling a book off the shelf, but they’re up for the job. Each year, the center’s digitally savvy staff provides more than 30,000 patients and families with credible information – and compassionate support – to complement their clinical care.
Our patients receive an overwhelming amount of information. The Learning Center staff listens carefully to patients to determine what will be most helpful. Staff identify how they can help patients, what information they need and how much information they can handle.
“A lot of patients come to The Learning Center stunned by their cancer diagnoses,” says Kathy Jinkins, associate director of Patient Education. “They don’t know what they don’t know.”
The Learning Center’s staff direct patients to free resources that can help them work collaboratively with their care teams.
“We want to have conversations,” Jinkins says. “We listen to the nuances of what patients and caregivers are saying and what they’re not saying. We can sense what they need from the conversations we have.”
The Learning Center’s staff make about 1,500 referrals annually for patients who need a social work counselor, a chaplain or another service.
Patient-friendly tech support
Patients are encouraged to use our patient portal, myMDAnderson, to manage their care online. But that’s often easier said than done for less tech-savvy patients and their families.
“We actually sit side-by-side and teach them how to go into their app store and download an app,” Jinkins says.
Staff members explain that myMDAnderson is a secure, encrypted way for patients to manage their personal health records and communicate to their care teams. They walk patients through sections of myMDAnderson so they’ll know how to access their medical records and test results, as well as how to communicate with their care teams.
Patients now are responsible for filling out more paperwork to get services authorized from their insurance providers. At The Learning Center, they can complete paperwork immediately on one of the public computers or using the fax machine, with help from our staff.
Guiding patients to the right information online
“Sometimes the information patients find on random websites isn’t accurate,” says Jila Tanha, senior health education specialist. “They find the good, the bad and the ugly.”
That’s why The Learning Center’s staff created online recommended resources. Each webpage links to authoritative, trustworthy information. Patients can browse resources on every major cancer type, along with hot topics such as nutrition, pain management and coping.
“Recommended resources give patients credible medical information at their fingertips,” Jinkins says. “The patient can access it anywhere and email the librarian who created the page with more questions about that topic.”
The Learning Center employees continually update these webpages so patients can get the latest information whenever they need it, adds senior librarian Liz Brackeen.
Caring employees make long-lasting connections
The biggest reason patients keep coming back to The Learning Center is the staff. The employees listen carefully to patients and take time to understand their needs. Patients often write thank-you notes to show their gratitude for the staff’s caring help.
“Thank you so much. I appreciate your research and for sending me these articles,” one patient wrote in a card to a librarian. “They provided some hope as well as helped me generate more questions to ask. This is a very beneficial service to patients.”
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson’s quarterly publication for employees, volunteers, retirees and their families.