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Medical Librarians: The Real Life "Siri's" of the Health Information World

October 17, 2014

Think of medical librarians as the "Siri’s" of the medical world—only more accurate (sorry Apple). In an age of instant answers, we serve as a resource for timely, accurate information that medical professionals can quickly access. We are master searchers, database gurus and all-around experts when it comes to finding and accessing medical information. When a physician needs information about a rare complication, a nurse needs the latest treatment guidelines or a pharmacist needs safety information on a new drug—the medical librarian is their time-saving “go to” resource.  And ultimately, patients benefit from their well-informed and up-to-date health care providers.

In August, we the many ways medical librarians could optimize your search and outlined the 5 W’s that can help get you there.

Today, in celebration of National Medical Librarians Month, we wanted to shine a spotlight on our profession and explain a bit about what we do and why it’s valuable to healthcare providers and patients alike.  Of course, our main function is to simplify the search process, and with databases that contain well over 20 million articles, it is our job to find just the right resource to help our clinicians, administrators and support staff answer their important questions. In doing so, we save them time and effort, so they can concentrate on using that information to provide excellent care to our patients.

Here are some examples of topics we research for our staff:

  • Which antibiotic should be used to prevent infection after a surgery if the patient is allergic to the recommended drugs?
  • What kinds of physical therapy exercises are safe for patients with blood clots?
  • How much fluid should be taken from a lumbar puncture (aka spinal tap) to be able to effectively diagnose brain or spinal cord cancer earlier?
  • What are the best ways to keep children with seizures safe from falls?
Medical librarians also spend quite a bit of time teaching our users how to find information on their own. Thirty years ago, medical librarians taught clinicians how to use card catalogs and print indexes. With the evolution of technology came greater demand for instant access to information and a knowledge base tailored to digital methods. Now we teach clinicians where to point and click to open journal articles and how to access clinical guidelines from their mobile devices. As information access evolves, librarians are there to help healthcare staff learn how to best find what they need.

The positive impact that medical librarians can have on health care outcomes was recently confirmed in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association: “Effects of librarian-provided services in healthcare settings: a systematic review.”  The authors looked at a number of studies that explored benefits of medical librarians to patients, clinicians and healthcare organizations. The authors found that when librarians train medical personnel (e.g. students, residents) in searching the literature, the clinicians were able to find information that could actually be used to influence their clinical decisions.  Librarian services also saved time, so healthcare providers could spend more time doing their jobs. Some studies even link librarian-provided information with patients being discharged from the hospital sooner!

Orlando Health recognizes the value of having a medical library with current and reliable resources, and also the specialized services that medical librarians provide. In addition to searching the literature, our librarians locate and retrieve journal articles, participate in rounds, teach classes, select materials for the library and help with patient education materials, including helping to locate health information in multiple languages for our diverse local community.

With millions of pages at our fingertips on the Internet, it can sometimes be difficult to determine the credibility of information. Our medical librarians help patients find reliable and current information on health topics, and can point users to search reliable resources to get the most current and authoritative answers. From material on breast cancer in Russian, to nutritional advice for diabetes, to how to care for your premature baby, our medical library helps patients and family members better understand and cope with their health issues.

If you need information on a health topic please contact the Graese Community Health Library at Orlando Health at 321-841-4636 or [email protected]

You can also request information through our online Ask-a-Librarian form. Orlando Health is committed to providing top notch care – and our medical librarians are too.