It is often a surprise for people to discover a library in a hospital, but librarians have been a part of health care for many years.
Many early hospital libraries were split into separate physician and nurse reading rooms closed to the public. Over the years, these separate libraries eventually rolled together to serve all clinical staff.
In the early 1990s, the trend of more educated patients encouraged the opening of medical library services to the public, including the creation of library websites and patient-focused collections. In large hospitals, clinical librarians often make rounds with medical teams, providing informational support at the bedside.
Medical librarians provide a variety of services for the two primary users of the hospital library: the patient and the professional.
For the patient or health care consumer, health literacy or access to quality health information is often a challenge. Finding information online can be frustrating; either you have to wade through millions of search responses, ignoring misinformation, or you find research too technical to understand. Not only is it frustrating, it can be dangerous to follow online health advice.
Medical librarians can help in retrieving quality consumer-level information about diseases, drugs, treatments and other health care concerns. Since the average adult reads at a level four to five years lower than his or her highest grade completed in school, consumer health information is usually written at a fifth- to eighth-grade reading level.
You can find items from databases, well-known high-quality websites or a variety of books. Take this information home to review and make a more educated decision in partnership with your physician or other medical professional. Often people write down a list of questions to ask the physician at the next appointment. Remember, a medical librarian cannot offer medical advice or interpret information. A medical librarian does not have any access to medical records.
Medical librarians provide a variety of services designed to keep physician and nursing staff up to date on the latest developments in their fields. They search the wide variety of databases to support evidence-based practice, coordinate journal table of contents or track down an article mentioned on the news. Getting information from textbooks and print journals isn’t enough, because the Internet and online access to medical databases and electronic journal indexes have completely changed how physicians and nurses get and use information.
Bedside or point-of-care resources often provide quality information summaries that help with diagnosis, treatment options and medication decisions. But if these summaries aren’t enough, then the latest research publications must be reviewed. As doctors and nurses spend time searching for information, they are missing out on quality time with their patients – a frustration for both.
Librarians coordinate access to databases and journals, as well as teach classes for those who want to brush up on searching skills. The availability of a medical librarian to ensure access to the best databases, complete searches for the latest medical research and support patient education can improve the cost effectiveness of health care and improve the outcomes for patients.
As trained information professionals, medical librarians can quickly search for information, ask specific questions and deliver results via email. This allows physicians and other clinicians to focus on the most important part of their job: the patient.
Dana Kopp is a medical librarian at St. Patrick Hospital.