Michele Spatz, M.S.
Business Projects and Intelligence Manager
130 Division Street
Derby, CT 06418
January 6, 2011; Reviewed August 2013
Patients and healthcare consumers alike want and need access to meaningful information in order to understand their illness or condition, make personal health decisions, adjust their lifestyle to better manage their health and, hopefully, improve their well-being. Consumer health libraries offer a safe place, and more critically, a staff with the unique knowledge-based skills and expertise to help patients and healthcare consumers connect with vital information to help answer their health concerns.
Libraries don’t happen in vacuums and are typically part of a larger organization. In order to make a consumer health library a reality, the first and foremost step is to secure strong executive leadership and board commitment to this goal. You need these top officials on board to remove obstacles for implementation, fund the project for success and advocate for the consumer health library’s benefits.
Having this support sets the stage for achievement and will prove invaluable going forward.
Know Your Customers
Planning a consumer health library takes insight and knowledge. Knowing your customers, those whom you will serve, is fundamental to building a solid foundation for planning your facility as well as its resources, programs, services and staff capabilities. By nature, librarians are very good researchers, a skill that will prove invaluable in determining and defining your customers. Unless you’ve been given a mandate with a pre-determined clientele to serve, here’s what you need to know:
Conducting focus groups with both patients and providers (physicians, nurses, allied health staff, etc.) often offers valuable insight into information strengths and opportunities to develop both subject areas and delivery mechanisms. Offer an inducement, such as a meal or a small gift, to garner attendance.
Analyze the data
Analyzing the data will reveal your primary audiences, secondary audiences and so on. Not only should you identify the most pressing health information needs, but also where gaps exist in meeting them. Is there an underserved group in your data analysis? Knowing your customers will help you define a strategy for addressing these important information requirements.
Once the data have been scrutinized and intended audience(s) identified, determine what services the consumer health library will offer. For example, collection development, reference work, in-depth information research, targeted patient information resources, outreach programs to the community at large or in-reach to the patients and staff of a medical center, all require adequate funding and staffing. Consider a staged staffing approach if funding is a concern. Start the consumer health library with a defined level of staffing; then progressively add staff, as agreed-upon service benchmarks are met. At a minimum, always include an individual with a master’s degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS) in the director’s role. Today’s health information world is rapidly changing and highly technical. At the same time, responding to patients’ health and medical queries requires soft skills such as the ability to interact with individuals from all walks of life and who are undergoing a diversity of maladies, with compassion and without judgment. MLIS candidates are uniquely trained to provide these crucial 21st Century technical and interpersonal skills in regards to health and medical information delivery.
Set service hours to maximize patients and healthcare consumers’ ability to utilize both the talents of the consumer health library staff and the various resources it offers: e-resources, teaching models, books, media, computers, support group meetings, health talks, etc. Depending upon your location (community vs. medical center campus) and target population, consider evening and/or weekend hours to better meet varied users’ busy schedules.
Develop a start-up budget that includes one-time infrastructure costs, such as furniture, equipment, shelving, book/media drop, any remodeling costs and so forth.
Next, outline each operational cost center, which is identified by examining the services and on-going resources of the consumer health library. List each one and its projected, itemized expense. For each service and resource, include staffing as part of its cost center, as this will often be the largest operational expense.
Plan for Success
Stage the opening of the consumer health library so that all furnishings, resources and staff are in place, ready to respond to health information inquiries. Prior to opening day, visit important constituent groups to share the vision and capabilities of the consumer health information services. Underscore the importance of patients’ knowledge and understanding of their health or disease process as it relates to: patient safety, effective healthcare provider and patient communication, and the patient’s ability for self-determination.
Marketing is mandatory for continued visibility and viability. In addition to traditional means of marketing, such as a website, newspaper and radio ads, brochures and flyers, use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to engage patients and consumers alike. Be active on medical center and/or community health committees and projects to exemplify your health information professional skills and to highlight the vast amount of health and medical resources the consumer health library has to offer. Collect and share patients’ and consumers’ stories of success and expressions of gratitude to illustrate how the consumer health library touches lives. Making a difference, one person at a time, is a true measure of success.