December 3, 2019

Improving the patient experience through clear communication is Lane Stiles’ ‘North Star’

Lane Stiles winner of the Five Pillar Leader Award Ð photo to be used in VUMC Voice, on digital message boards and in powerpoint presentation. Widescreen landscape works best.(Joe Howell/Vanderbilt University)

Lane Stiles has come to work each day for the last nine years focused on answering a single question: “How can we keep patients and families at the center of all we do?”

As director of Patient Education, he’s responsible for maintaining clear and consistent messaging across all patient-facing materials.

From rewording consent forms to integrating information on diagnoses and medications into My Health at Vanderbilt and eStar, Stiles devotes his energy to ensuring education is accessible to all patients in all situations. For that, he was awarded the Five Pillar Leader Award at the Nov. 13 Leadership Assembly.

“Lane has an extraordinary ability to help us find the patient’s voice, taking complex medical educational documents or procedural consent forms and making them accessible to our broad and diverse population,” one of his nominators wrote.

With a background in teaching, editing and publishing, Stiles’ path to a passion for health literacy wasn’t straightforward. His interest sparked when he accepted a job at a publishing company within Fairview Health Services in Minnesota and saw a need for consistent, patient-centered communication across the clinical enterprise. He oversaw the evolution of the press into a department for patient education and health literacy.

“Lane has an extraordinary ability to help us find the patient’s voice, taking complex medical educational documents or procedural consent forms and making them accessible to our broad and diverse population.”

When he came across an opportunity to build a patient education department at Vanderbilt in 2010, his wife encouraged him to apply.

Prior to Stiles’ arrival at Vanderbilt, patient education was handled individually by each department. What resulted from the inconsistent approach was conflicting information and education that was over the head of the average reader, wrote another one of Stiles’ nominators.

“Some examples of the unintended consequences were 26 different smoking cessation pamphlets, conflicting information for when to call the doctor for a diagnosis depending on whether you received it in the clinic, the Emergency Department or the hospital, and patient education that was at a 25th grade reading level.”

Over time, Stiles’ team has created a central repository of standardized education materials and formatted them using best practice templates that, among other things, use shorter line lengths, larger fonts and more white space. They’ve revised text of all kinds for readability and made information available through many different media and devices.

“I feel that it’s my department’s job to ask, ‘Where’s the patient and family?’ We want to make sure they’re always represented,” said Stiles. “That’s why all of my staff are non-clinicians. We can look at the materials that come through here with the eyes of a layperson and ask, ‘Would I understand this? Would this be helpful for me?’”

Clear communication also requires consideration of the circumstances that patients and families often find themselves in.

“Patients may be sick or on medication. They may not have their glasses with them. They may be getting unfamiliar and complex information. They may be stressed,” said Stiles. “Patients encounter these situations all the time.”

Stiles also teaches medical staff and students about health literacy and patient engagement, including how to use teach-back effectively and how to have a conversation about advance care planning.

“I can’t imagine a better job. I’m learning new things every day, my work is challenging and interesting, and the bottom line is we’re making patients’ and families’ lives better,” said Stiles. “That’s my North Star. That’s what drives the work I do.”

To place a nomination for an Elevate Credo Award, Five Pillar Leader Award, or Team Award, visit the Elevate website to fill out a nomination form. Employees demonstrate credo behaviors when: they make those they serve the highest priority; respect privacy and confidentiality; communicate effectively; conduct themselves professionally; have a sense of ownership; and are committed to their colleagues. Elevate award nominations are accepted year-round. If a nomination is received after the cutoff for quarterly award selection, the nomination will be considered for the next quarter. VUMC Voice will post stories on each of the award winners in the weeks following their announcement.