Eva Bariuan, MPH, RN BC, OCN

At the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, nurses Eva Bariuan, Kay Murphy, and Imelda Juguilon developed a patient education program to reduce anxiety for women undergoing breast brachytherapy using SAVI. Research at UCSD demonstrated that anxiety levels can be significantly reduced when a patient education strategy is employed. The nurses presented their findings at the 35th Annual Congress of the Oncology Nursing Society in a presentation called The Effects of a Patient Education Strategy in Relieving Anxiety for Women Undergoing Breast Brachytherapy Using Strut Adjusted Volume Implant (SAVI) at the University of California, San Diego Moores Cancer Center.

Below, Eva shares her insights – as both a healthcare professional and a breast cancer survivor – on the importance of patient education in breast cancer treatment.

What inspired you to adopt a patient education strategy for breast cancer treatment at UCSD?

The fact that I was a breast cancer patient myself gave me insight to the mental anguish and physical pain involved in dealing with the disease. At the time of my diagnosis, I needed the information, education, and assurance that the best care would be provided to me to ensure a full recovery. The people I depended on at that time were the medical staff at UCSD Moores Cancer Center. That’s right – I was a patient at UCSD Moores Cancer Center, and now I have the opportunity to work alongside the staff that once cared for me.

As I go through my daily patient care routine, I always think of the days when I was in my patients’ shoes. Instinctively, I can almost always predict the needs of my patients; not only their medical needs, but also their educational, psychological, and morale needs. From that perspective came the inspiration to devise and adopt an education strategy to relieve anxiety and improve the care that we, the medical staff, are able to provide our patients.

What were the key components of your strategy?

Our main goal was to ensure that women knew what to expect at every step of the treatment process. The education strategy we devised and implemented featured a combination of educational materials, such as an instructional DVD and written pre- and post-procedural instructions, and plenty of personal interaction and communication with the patients. We provided a demonstration of the procedure, as well as a tour of the procedure suite. Patients also had the opportunity to meet the staff prior to their procedure, and we gave them contact phone numbers for any questions or concerns regarding their treatment process with SAVI. In fact, patients were regularly encouraged to ask questions to both physicians and nurses, as well as to make contact with patients who had already experienced treatment with SAVI.

What did you learn from the study?

Based on patient responses, nine out of the ten women surveyed indicated their anxiety level reduced before, during, and immediately after SAVI treatment. They really liked the program because we were able to spend time with them and they felt well-informed about what to expect from insertion to removal and beyond. They also liked the patient education DVD because it featured former SAVI patients sharing their experiences, which our patients found to be very reassuring. Overall, the patients felt more confident because they knew what would happen every step of the way, and we believe that proper education is what helped reduce the anxiety surrounding the treatment.

In addition to reducing patients’ anxiety, we discovered that having a defined patient education strategy helped us improve the continuity of care within the cancer center practice. We were able to create a system to manage SAVI patients that told our nurses what information to share with the patients and at what point during the treatment that information should be shared. If a nurse is sick or assigned to another case, we don’t have to worry about women falling through the cracks — our nurses know exactly how to handle SAVI patients because our education program provides a road map for patient care. We were able to create a system of patient care that can be given by anybody within the facility.

Ultimately, I think the patients, nurses, and physicians learned that when treatment includes a team approach and good communication, everyone benefits.

How will this study impact the role of patient education at UCSD – and other facilities – in the future?

This was a pilot study that provided the baseline data needed to further evaluate patient anxiety during treatment and the effectiveness of multi-modality patient education strategies. Based on our successful results, we chose to continue the program for SAVI patients at the cancer center. We recognize the importance of patient education and have applied that philosophy to many other areas of care within the cancer center.

The study also helped us realize how much our patients value support from other women. We are in the process of surveying our patients to assist in the creation of a SAVI Sisters breast cancer support group for women who are considering, currently experiencing, or have experienced treatment with SAVI at the Moores Cancer Center.

Most importantly, our study provides a good example of a patient education program that can be easily adopted by other facilities. The strategy is broad enough and designed so that it can be easily implemented by any staff member who is involved with the SAVI procedure. I think this sets an example for any facility that is looking to make healthcare a more positive experience through enhanced patient education.

If you need assistance providing your breast cancer patients with education and support, be sure to check out the new SAVI Sisters program. The tools and ideas in SAVI Sisters will enhance your patient education efforts while helping raise awareness about 5-day radiation therapy, as well as your practice.