(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — Two researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health are spearheading a novel approach to patient education on diabetes – a touch-screen computer system that teaches patients about diabetes and how to manage the disease.

The pilot project of touch-screen computers initiated by Jane Bolin, R.N., J.D., Ph.D., associate professor, and Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor, will go “live” at five sites around the Brazos Valley the week of Nov. 12-16.

The HSC-SRPH is one of a few schools in the country to be designated as a Prevention Research Center (PRC) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Center for Community Health Development (CCHD) is the PRC for the HSC-SRPH, and each PRC has a core project. The CCHD is addressing diabetes, among other chronic diseases.

In determining health issues to address, many rural physicians stated they do not have adequate time, staff or funds to teach their patients about diabetes, how to live with it and how to manage the disease.

“I’m pleased that Dr. Bolin, a national expert in chronic disease management, is leading this innovative project to combat such a major public health problem as diabetes,” said Ciro Sumaya, M.D., M.P.H.T.M., Dean and Cox Endowed Chair of the HSC-SRPH.

The community health centers in Madison, Grimes and Burleson counties, the Family Practice Residency in Bryan, and the Brazos Valley Community Health Center in Bryan will each have a kiosk installed. Nursing and clinic staff will encourage any patient with a diabetes diagnosis to utilize the kiosk for education and additional information, such as setting goals for self-management and care.

Drs. Bolin and Ory and their team developed a curriculum of patient self-education into an interactive multimedia computer program. A mini-grant from Dell is providing some of the computer kiosks.

HSC-SRPH graduate students John Prochaska, Daphne Fulton, Steve Griesenbeck, Katy Robertson and Louis Martinez-Barron assisted in curriculum development. Once the curriculum was developed, computer programmers Jeremy Tarpley and Ben Liles transformed the educational information into a multimedia experience, with text, audio and video.

When a patient approaches the kiosk, he or she will be provided with an informed consent request, allowing permission to be given for a secure account to be created for the patient and for tracking education and goal-setting over time.

One component allows a patient to set goals for the management and care of his or her diabetes. The goals can be printed out for the patient to take home and work on between visits, as well as allowing clinic staff to place a copy in the individual’s chart. Other components teach patients about measuring their blood sugar, inspecting their feet for signs of poor circulation, making health food choices and more.

The feasibility-testing phase will last six months. During that time, participants will be asked to evaluate their experience, such as ease of use, recommended changes, and kiosk likes and dislikes.

Dr. Bolin and her team then will be able to retrieve data from each kiosk that shows how many clients made repeat visits, how many set goals, and the most popular or most viewed educational components. Patient names are removed from these reports to protect patient confidentiality.

After the evaluation, Dr. Bolin’s team will make any recommended changes and begin exploring support for disseminating the kiosks more widely throughout the region.

“These kiosks are serving as a model, as the CDC and many other community health centers are eagerly awaiting a final product so that they may use them on a broad scale throughout Texas, as well as the country as a whole,” Dr. Ory said.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its six components located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, and the School of Rural Public Health.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell