“What could explain my patient’s pain and discolored legs after ankle surgery?”
“How might I incorporate a systematic review of literature about epilepsy in my upcoming publication?”
“My patient only speaks Tagalog. How can I find health education materials on bladder cancer in Tagalog?”
“What should I search, and in what databases, to get the information I need?”
If you are lucky enough to have access to a medical librarian, he or she may very well be your first point of contact for these types of questions. We currently live in a golden age of information, and healthcare professionals enjoy unprecedented access to data, research, case studies, and publications from around the world. Yet sifting through that to find what you need, when you need it, is a daunting task. Here is where medical librarians can come in.
Medical librarians are skilled in quickly researching. Medical librarians can work for hospitals, clinics, medical schools, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies. On the academic side of medicine, medical librarians can help physicians and scientists review, synthesize, and analyze medical literature, prepare articles for publication, and maintain database access for clinicians. They may also teach continuing medical education courses on research and information literacy. They have such expertise that in some organizations, medical librarians are called informationists.
Hospital surveys show that medical librarians measurably improve patient outcomes and lower healthcare costs. Medical librarians can influence a patient’s diagnosis, the tests run on that patient, the choice of treatment, and the advice given to the patient and her family. When Allina Health decided to improve spine surgery performances at some of its clinics, its leadership turned to its medical library for support. The library delivered a series of literature searches on spinal surgery outcomes, and sought out pertinent journal articles. From that data, the organization created an evidence-based care model, with guidelines for treatment and data monitoring. As a result, Allina Health spine patients enjoy an improved quality of care, and report lower pain levels.
Evidence-based medicine is one place that medical librarians shine. Defined as “the conscientious, explicit, judicious and reasonable use of modern, best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients,” evidence-based medicine aims to increase the use of clinical data in the clinical setting. This is a complex task, and evidence-based medicine has both its devotees and skeptics. But even the hesitant will agree that at times, it is crucial. And in those moments, a medical librarian is the perfect person to work with in gathering and evaluating the data you need to treat your patients.
Medical librarians are true members of the healthcare team. At many organizations, medical librarians attend clinical rounds with physicians, ready to research any questions that may arise. Sometimes, medical librarians are even present during surgeries. If your hospital or organization has a medical library, get to know the librarian! When healthcare providers have strong relationships with medical librarians, everyone benefits.