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Getting Creative with Consumer Health Outreach

By Caroline Marshall

Horblit Health Sciences Library

Danbury Hospital, Danbury CT

When I took on the role of consumer health librarian here at the hospital two years ago, I learned pretty soon that I had to be creative in how I went about promoting consumer health information. The reason, I had little or no budget!! Here are some ideas based on what I have done and what I plan to do to promote consumer health outreach.

I started off by visiting local public libraries and offered myself and my library as a resource for questions that they did not have the resources to answer. I let them know that they could refer patrons to me either by phone or in person. Additionally when I do projects such as the Sun Safety competition I do each year I send brochures, handouts and posters to the libraries so that they can display them for their patrons. I am working closely with a public library in NY State that contacted us regarding setting up a consumer health collection. In addition to providing collection advice I have put them in touch with our Community Relations department to help them set up health talks at the library with our physicians.

Another area to contact is the local high schools. For example, one of the nearby high schools has a multinational population. I offered to provide foreign language health resources and provided them with web links for their website. Additionally I arranged for the school’s Careers Club to visit and learn about several departments in the hospital. They were all very impressed by the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).

Don’t forget your local Community Organizations! I got in touch with the local Adult Education ESL coordinator and she very kindly faxed me a list of community organizations. I have visited the Senior Center and done a short presentation on MedlinePlus The list of organizations I visited is long, including a MOM’s Group, The Hispanic Center, and Women’s Center etc. Support Groups are another area for outreach. For example, in my area there is a Grandparents Support Group for grandparents raising their grandchildren. I will offer to do a presentation on MedlinePlus and NIH Senior Health. There is also a Low Vision Support group I was planning on visiting, to introduce them to audio health materials such as the MedlinePlus Tutorials and the Healthy Roads Media site that includes audio formats for a wide range of health topics. Additionally there is a Diabetes and Cancer support group. Your local Town Hall should be able to give you a list of support groups in your area.

Many communities have a Visiting Nurse Association and a Parish Nurse. Your local church should be able to put you in touch with your Parish Nurse and you could offer to do something at their next area meeting. They will probably be involved in local health fairs so you could offer to provide consumer health information on popular health topics. Always try to include some easy to read health information and handouts in large print. Find out if there is a particular minority group or groups in that area and be sure to include some information in that particular language.

Check out your local community college or university. They may have a health science course; my local university has a Health Promotion and Exercise Science Department which can lead to preparation as a community health educator or a school health educator. The courses cover consumer health, mental health, and CAM just to name a few. I agreed to do a presentation to a class in January on Health Literacy, showing the students resources for writing and developing easy to read health materials. MedlinePlus has a good section on Health Literacy and the CDC has a fairly comprehensive guide developing materials called Simply Put.

Work with a school or a class in school on a project. For example, if you support a project on Sun Safety you can get great posters from the American College of Dermatology which actually show the sun damage you cannot see with the naked eye. If you choose a class with younger children you could do an art project on ways to stay safe in the sun. The children in the lower grades may be more receptive to that type of project rather than the higher grades. You could also include a quiz and a word search and if you know any dermatologists or plastic surgeons you might be able to get some free samples of sun cream to hand out. The EPA has a SUNWISE Program for schools and communities with resources for educators http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/ this might be a good thing to introduce to local schools.

Another project which I want to do is work with a public library or an Adult Education Center to offer a class on how to find health information on the web.

I have made some post cards with my library’s name and that we can provide health information free of charge to be displayed at local health fairs. They say Be Informed; Horblit Health Sciences Library at Danbury Hospital provides health information free of charge to the public. Call or visit us etc. I make sure the Community Relations Department has a good stock and leave some in the lobby of the hospital. I have also given some to a local doctor’s office as a pilot study to see if their patients were interested in following up their visits with further information.

If you do have a Community Relations Department at your hospital it is a good idea to get to know them. I provide information for the health fairs they attend to promote the hospital. In addition they act as a Speaker’s Bureau providing physicians to speak at different health events and of course they like to have handouts. They have also invited me to several community events and I have managed to do some consumer outreach that way.

I always do my research first, checking out the web pages of the organizations I plan to visit, seeing where I can fit in. I have also set up a spreadsheet; I enter the month and who I met, phone number etc, what I gave them and whether it was an introductory meeting or a follow up. This way I can keep track of what I sent and who everyone is. It is also a good way of keeping stats !

Consumer Health Outreach is an ongoing project, you have to get yourself out there again and again. I have only had one, touch wood, bad experience when a school library I approached wouldn’t even talk to me. But, in general I have had good experiences and met some great people. One thing I particularly like to do is to invite the libraries I have worked with to come and visit my library so they can see where they are referring people. It also helps me to network for future collaborations. As I said it is an on going project but you just have to keep at it and enjoy yourself along the way.

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