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Yesterday, we introduced you to Houston Schweitzer Fellows Don Stader and Mary Weeks, whose Ben Taub Patient Education Initiative empowers underserved patients with the knowledge to fully care for themselves once they leave the Emergency Center (EC) at Ben Taub General Hospital.

Today and tomorrow, we’re bringing you vignettes that illustrate the dramatic impact this Schweitzer project is already having on patient care. Names and personal information have been changed to protect patient confidentiality:

Mr. G is a 59 year old gentleman who came to the Emergency Center with weakness and chest pain. Via examination and laboratory tests the physicians discovered that Mr. G’s hemoglobin levels were alarmingly low at 6.1, less than half the normal value for a male patient. The doctors diagnosed Mr. G with a gastrointestinal (GI) bleed and transfused him with two units of blood to correct his anemia and alleviate his symptoms. Upon discharge the physicians planned to have Mr. G follow up urgently, within a week, with a gastroenterologist who would perform a colonoscopy to discover the source of the bleed and provide definitive therapy.

Ben Taub patient educators were involved in educating Mr. G about his condition and follow-up plans. After bedside education was completed, the patient educator escorted Mr. G to the checkout cashier where bills are paid and follow-up appointments made. The cashier tried to schedule Mr. G as directed but discovered that the GI clinic was booked for months and the soonest he would be able to be scheduled for a GI appointment was in April, four months away. Knowing that the patient’s condition was too severe to wait for four months, the patient educator went back and informed the emergency physicians of Mr. G’s appointment date. The patient educator with the permission of the emergency physician paged the gastroenterologist to discuss Mr. G’s case and request a faster follow-up. The gastroenterologist, acknowledging the severity of Mr. G’s condition, approved for him to be seen four days after discharge.

At that appointment, Mr. G was discovered to have a large mass in his colon suspicious for colon cancer. If not for the intervention of the patient educator Mr. G would have had to wait 3 to 4 months before having his colonoscopy, during which time his cancer would have progressed and his heath further deteriorated. Thanks to the patient educator Mr. G is now on track to get more definitive care and has appointments planned with an oncologist and surgeon.

Check back tomorrow for another powerful vignette.