The Librarian's Role In The Provision Of Consumer Health Information And Patient Education
This Medical Library Association Policy Statement was developed by a Task Force of CAPHIS, chaired by Alan Rees. The task force members were: Joanne Marshall, Margaret Bandy, Kathy Lindner, Lisa McCormick, and Janet Schneider. The statement was approved by the Medical Library Association Board of Directors in February, 1996. Updated March 24, 2010. Reviewed November 12, 2013.
Bull Med Libr Assoc 1996 Apr;84(2):238-9
Health librarians, because of their knowledge and training in the identification, selection, organization and dissemination of evidence-based information, play an important role in both consumer health information services and patient education. The increasing emphasis of patient-centered care in the United States, and the accompanying need for better-informed patients, provides a great opportunity to integrate librarians more fully into the health care team. The role of the librarian differs depending on the mission and policies of the organization. Librarians' activities in this area should be oriented towards the goal of producing a healthy society as well as assisting the individual in making informed health decisions. This statement, developed by the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section and approved by the board of the Medical Library Association, defines consumer health information and patient education and identifies potential roles for librarians in these two areas.
Consumer health information (CHI) is information on health and medical topics provided in response to requests from the general public, including patients and their families. In addition to information on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of disease, CHI encompasses information on health promotion, preventive medicine, the determinants of health and accessing the health care system.
Patient education is a planned activity, initiated by a health professional, whose aim is to impart knowledge, attitudes and skills with the specific goal of changing behavior, increasing compliance with therapy and, thereby, improving health.
CHI and patient education overlap in practice, since patient behavior may change as a result of receiving health information materials. Patient education and CHI often differ in terms of the setting in which the process occurs, rather than in terms of the subject matter.
Roles for the Librarian in Consumer Health Information and Patient Education
- Identifying available CHI/patient education materials for review and possible purchase.
- Selecting CHI/patient education materials for the organization including books, magazines, audiovisuals, pamphlets, computer databases, , and Internet resources.
- Building an authoritative collection of CHI/patient education materials in print and electronic form that meets the needs of the institution or community being served.
- Developing subject file collections on current topics of interest to the consumers, etc.
- Maintaining a current collection of CHI and patient education materials which are routinely reevaluated and weeded.
Knowledge and Resource Sharing
- Networking with other individuals, organizations and agencies to facilitate resource sharing of CHI/patient education materials.
- Consulting on the identification, selection and organization of patient education materials in health care settings, e.g. hospital patient education resource centers, nursing units, ambulatory clinics, etc.
- Serving on institutional committees, e.g. patient education, public health, community health education, quality assurance, medical ethics, etc. to encourage and support the development of CHI/patient education resources.
- Working with the institution and the community to develop informational and educational programs related to health issues, e.g. weight control, living wills, etc. The librarian often plays a special role in identifying materials, locating speakers, etc.
- Alerting health educators to area of concern to the public for future program development.
- Acting as a resource by advising and assisting health professionals who wish to develop evidence-based, learner appropriate consumer health/patient education resources in their practice settings.
- Sharing the results of their CHI/patient education experience with other professionals, both in the library field and outside, in order to improve these services.
- Supporting and encouraging the development of self-help groups by providing resources, making referrals to facilitate networking and suggesting names of contact persons for programs, etc.
- In cases where the institution has a patient education program, working as a member of the interdisciplinary team to meet the informational needs of the programs.
- Assessing and evaluating literacy and learning levels of requestors in order to provide appropriate materials to consumers.
- Acting as advocates on the local, national and international levels to promote open access for the public to health information.
- Protecting the individual's right to confidentiality and unrestricted access to medical and health information. The MLA Code of Ethics for Health Sciences Librarianship, ALA Administrative Policies and Procedures and the Library Bill of Rights promotes such access.
- Promoting patient safety through the provision of quality information that enhances patients’ ability to evaluate data and clinical practices, e.g handwashing and medication reconciliation.
- Encouraging the gathering of evidence-based information on all sides of a question and on various types of procedures, both medical and non-medical, as a means of contributing to informed choice in health care decision-making.
- Advocating for the right of consumers to access information independent of the patient education program.
- Promoting the role of the librarian as part of the health care team, strengthening patient-centered care through the provision of appropriate evidence-based knowledge to consumers.
Access and Dissemination of Information
- Providing an information therapy service for health care professionals and consumers.
- Serving on patient care teams (discharge planning, rounds, etc.) to identify and fill CHI needs of the consumers and families in coordination with health care providers.
- Creating and compiling CHI and patient health information resources and/or pathways that are accessible via the internet and other national information networks.
- Sending information to hospitalized patients or community members.
- Providing a current awareness service for health professionals about new CHI and patient education materials.
- Creating consumer health information centers which provide CHI and patient information resources, reference, and referral.
- Responding to interlibrary loan requests for materials not available in other libraries.
- Serving as a quality filter for consumers of CHI and patient education information.
- Creating awareness for health professionals regarding the health information needs of consumers, including information and health literacy issues and learner preferences.
- Encouraging the inclusion of CHI services in CE Courses as appropriate and encouraging the development of new education tools to meet emerging needs.
- Presenting education programs for public and other librarians on the effective provision of CHI.
- Providing educational programs for the general public on locating and evaluating health information.
- Initiating and participating in research on all aspects of consumer health information.
- Applying health information research to CHI and patient education activities.
- Supporting research on patient-centered care, the medical home model, and practices that enhance shared decision-making and informed consent by patients and caregivers.
While librarians are experts in identifying and providing information, they are not practicing health professionals who interpret information and give advice. It is important that librarians avoid suggesting diagnoses and recommending particular health professionals or procedures. The librarian's role is to provide access to a range of authoritative materials, but he or she cannot be held responsible for the scientific accuracy or currency of all materials in the collection. Librarians' activities are oriented towards the social and community goals of producing a healthy society as well as assisting the individual to make more informed health decisions.