Furthering Education in the Patient/Family Environment: The Kouchoukos Cardiac Education Center

Nicholas Kouchoukos, MD Missouri Baptist Medical Center

Nicholas Kouchoukos, MD Missouri Baptist Medical Center

Over the years, one of the things that I have found most interesting is the heightened level of awareness and knowledge exhibited by my patients and their families. It may be in direct correlation with ongoing advancements in technology the Information Age, some may call it but frankly, I think that it is also due to the emphasis we in the healthcare community have placed on empowering patients and their families to become more active literally becoming a partner in determining their care. I've been in practice for more than 36 years, and the continuing advancements in the treatment of heart disease that I've seen during my career have been tremendous. However, no new technique or technology used to repair damaged hearts can be more effective in the fight against heart disease than educating people on how to prevent it. That is one reason why my wife, Judy, and I decided to fund the Kouchoukos Cardiac Education Center at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in St. Louis. The Cardiac Education Center actually looks more like an exhibit that you would see at a science center or a museum than a room on the second floor of a hospital, where it is located directly across from the surgical waiting areas. That is intentional we wanted it to be a place where visitors of all ages could literally step out of the hospital setting for a few moments and learn about the heart in a visually appealing and non-stressful environment. The Cardiac Education Center is comprised of a series of educational panels that illustrate and explain various aspects of the normal heart and of heart disease, including prevention and treatment. The main design feature of the panels is a series of life-size human silhouettes illustrating good and bad health habits and various exhibits related to heart disease and stroke. One of the things we're most proud of is the way the displays use language that is understandable to the layperson in our community. People in all stages of life and health can benefit from the information they find there. This includes young children, who may know very little about the heart (and are, if my grandchildren are any indication, very eager to learn). It also includes older adults with a history of heart disease. As you would suspect in an elementary exhibit on heart health, the content of the display panels address heart disease prevention, diagnosis, intervention and rehabilitation. There is information addressing the role of diet and exercise in preventing heart disease. There are panels that list the symptoms for heart attack and stroke, explain how coronary artery blockages are diagnosed, illustrate how a stent is placed to open blocked arteries, discuss the basics of bypass surgery and valve replacement, and offer information about the importance of rehabilitation following an interventional procedure. In short, our hope is that the panels serve as a visual aid that reinforces and can clearly illustrate discussions that physicians have had with heart patients and their families. The proximity to the waiting rooms allows us to escort visitors to the Center and provide them with an eye-catching, easy-to-understand explanation of the tests and treatments they or their loved one will undergo. For those visitors who are a bit more mechanically or technologically inclined, the Cardiac Education Center features interactive software about the heart on three computers, and a three-dimensional model of the human heart that opens to reveal its internal structures. Though adults do enjoy these aspects of the display, we believe that children will find them equally fascinating and who's to say that future health care professionals might not begin to discover their passion for medicine in the Center! The subject range of the displays is extensive everything from electrophysiology to an autographed pair of used tennis shoes worn by former St. Louis Cardinals baseball manager Whitey Herzog during his cardiac rehabilitation at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, following cardiac surgery. Written information is provided concerning the electrical signals triggered by the body's need for oxygen that control the mechanical pumping of the heart. A video monitor provides images of the heart's electrical system, illustrating how the electrical signals are sent and received. It demonstrates the cause and effect relationship of the electrical stimulus, initiating mechanical contraction. The Center also provides explanations of a pacemaker, ICD and ablation procedure. A pacemaker and ICD are on display, with accompanying diagrams showing how they are implanted. In addition, definitions are provided for arrhythmias, including their causes and symptoms. As an added touch, a basket of fresh apples for visitors to enjoy is provided in the Center, and is underwritten by the hospital's medical staff. I don't know if my fellow Missouri Baptist Medical Center physicians truly follow the adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but I'm sure they would agree that if preventing heart disease through education results in seeing fewer heart patients in surgery, then the Cardiac Education Center is well worth the investment in money and effort and apples. It took nine months to build the Center that opened in May 2006. Its success is the result of the efforts of a tremendous number of people at Missouri Baptist Medical Center who are committed to providing quality care. In addition to input from myself on its design and content, Mary Foster-Carter, RN, cardiovascular recovery and cardiothoracic operating room nurse manager; Jennifer Francis, RN, nurse manager of the cath lab and electrophysiology lab; Karen Maine, RN, manager of cardiac diagnostics; Linda Wisneski, RN, manager, cardiopulmonary rehab; and Debbie Victor, vice president, Missouri Baptist Healthcare Foundation, labored over the content and final design of the Center. Judy and I are very proud of the Cardiac Education Center. We now have an area within our hospital that is uniquely placed and designed to enhance the heart health of the patients we serve, their families and our entire community.