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It’s not an uncommon practice for patient education managers to use forms, documents, and educational materials from other institutions as a blueprint when creating similar pieces for their own health care systems. However, care must be taken to ensure that there is no copyright infringement.
The law is intentionally vague about how much change is necessary to avoid copyright violation, says Fran London, MS, RN, health education specialist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. That’s why as a general rule, she never words the content in the same way or presents the information in the same format as the source’s material. It should never look like it was copied.
Frequently changing the copy is inevitable because the original material usually is written at too high a reading level or formatted poorly for patients with low literacy skills, she says. Also, at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, families review the content during the creation process, which generates more changes.
"Assume everything you see in print or on a web site is copyrighted," advises London. When an author puts information on paper, he or she owns the copyright. If the material is written at work, the employer owns the copyright, she explains.
Always ask for permission to use another institution’s materials, even if only as a template or framework, and get the permission in writing to protect both parties, says Sandra Cornett, director, OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program, Office of Health Sciences at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus and former program manager for consumer health education at the OSU Medical Center.
It is wise to give credit to the original source even when changes have been made. Including "adapted from ——" at the bottom of the material to acknowledge the original source can do this. "Permission is always asked for, except in public documents from government sources, and even then, I give credit at the bottom of the document," says Cornett.
The institution or source is given credit on the material if they are copied as is. Of course, permission is always sought and sometimes a fee is attached for the use of the material, says Cornett.
When people ask to adapt materials from OSU Medical Center, a copy of the adaptation is requested for review to determine how much of the content was changed before permission is granted.
To ask permission to use materials from another source, whether written content, an illustration, or chart, write a letter, says London. Send the copyright holder a copy of what you want to use, tell him or her how you want to use it, how many copies you will make, and whether you will charge for it. Also, ask the copyright holder how he or she wants to be acknowledged in your product, says London.
The same steps to obtain permission apply to information on a web site. "Just because you can copy a picture and paste it into your document doesn’t mean you should do it. It’s best to always have permission in writing to protect yourself and your institution," says London.
The copyright holder may send one of four responses, which include:
Even when permission is granted, keep a record of all resources used to create the material so if someone has questions about the source of the content, the information is readily available, advises London.
Forms, like those used for documentation of education, are likely to be similar to other institutions because all must include the information that pertains to the Oakbrook Terrace, IL-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, standards. However, it would be difficult to directly copy a form and have it work for your institution, says London. Most forms would not suit your facility without some modification.
"I have found it rare that another institution has exactly what I need," says London. Often the material doesn’t suit the needs of the patient population and health care providers at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Regional differences and practice variations make it necessary to individualize most materials, she says.
"However, when creating a new form or educational material, it can be very helpful to see what others are doing, what works, what they included, and didn’t include. We don’t have enough time to re-create every wheel from scratch," says London.
Sandra Cornett, RN, PhD, Director, OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program, Office of Health Sciences, The Ohio State University, AHEC, 218 Meiling Hall, 370 W. Ninth Ave., Columbus, OH 43210-1238. Telephone: (614) 292-0716. Fax: (614) 688-4041. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fran London, MS, RN, Health Education Specialist, The Emily Center, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, 909 E. Brill St., Phoenix, AZ 85006. Telephone: (602) 239-2820. Fax: (602) 239-4670. E-mail: email@example.com.