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Providing Health Information Services

What are some good starting places?

Consumer health information requests can come in many shapes and sizes. People who have been newly diagnosed with a medical condition (or whose loved one has), are highly motivated to find information about their condition so that they can make informed decisions about their health. Perhaps it's a matter of finding general information or to find out about the most current treatment options, including alternative therapies. Whatever the question may be, it is important to direct your patrons to quality, authoritative resources. Some suggested web sites to start with are:
  • MedlinePlus - - the National Library of Medicine's consumer health web resource. Includes information on over 600 health topics, full-text drug information, a full-text medical encyclopedia, daily health news, and more.
  • - - From the American Academy of Family Physicians. Health information for the whole family.
  • - - From the National Cancer Institute. Extensive information about types of cancer, clinical trials, statistics, and more.
  • Lab Tests Online - - A site developed by clinical labaratory professionals to help the public understand lab tests that are part of routine care or used in diagnosis and treatment.
  • NIH Senior Health - - the National Institutes of Health's web site for seniors and their care givers.
  • - - the National Library of Medicine's searchable database of clinical trials in which consumers may wish to participate.
  • DIRLINE - - the National Library of Medicine's online directory of health organizations.
  • ToxTown - - the National Library of Medicine's web resource for consumers to understand toxins in their environment.

Resources developed by librarians for librarians

There are also resources that have been written and created by public librarians for use by their colleagues in answering health information questions. The following is a list of suggested resources to review:
  • Consumer Health Information for Public Librarians by Lynda M. Baker and Virginia Manbeck, Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD, 2002 - This book provides guidance in program development for public libraries that want to implement or improve consumer health information programs.
  • The Public Librarian's Guide to Providing Consumer Health Information by Barbara Casini and Andrea Kenyon, Public Library Association, Chicago, 2002 - This comprehensive guide contains helpful information for librarians seeking to provide the best consumer health information for their patrons.
  • The MLA Encyclopedic Guide to Searching and Finding Health Information on the Web by P. F. Anderson and Nancy J. Allee, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, NY, 2004 - This three-volume book, plus optional CD-ROM, shows you how an experienced health sciences librarian would approach a health reference question at a public library.
  • The Medical Library Association Consumer Health Reference Service Handbook and CD by Donald A. Barclay and Deborah D. Halsted, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, NY, 2001 - This book lists and annotates hundreds of sources for consumer health information and illustrates the principles and practice of consumer health librarianship. A CD-ROM includes templates for developing an effective consumer-health Website and for designing in-house consumer health information brochures.

Health Reference Interactions

Due to the sensitive, confidential and often emotional nature of health information inquiries, health reference interactions can differ from general reference transactions. When people are newly diagnosed with a medical condition, they are unlikely to be receptive to information until after they have had a chance to come to terms with their situation. It is important to keep in mind that your patrons may be emotionally upset when they come to you for assistance. Health questions are further complicated by medical terms that are not common to the general public. Lastly, remember that librarians can not offer medical advice - simply provide information from appropriate, reputable sources. There are some resources available to assist you:
  • Guidelines for Providing Medical Information to Consumers - - from the Connecticut Consumer Health Information Network - These guidelines are to help reference librarians and other library staff answer consumer health and medical questions from library users. Consumer health questions are those that relate directly to a personal medical concern of the person asking for information or the person's relative or friend.
  • Guidelines on Handling Medical Questions in the Public Library - - from the Nebraska Library Commission reference manual. Includes a section about dealing with telephone inquiries.
  • Please Ask Your Doctor - - from King County Library System. An interview guide to use with health care professionals. Especially helpful for people who may need clarification about their situation or who will be getting follow-up care.

Consumer Health Collections

If your library wants to dedicate part of its collection to consumer health information, there are bibliographies and guides available to assist in collection development decisions.
  • Managing a Consumer Health Information Service: Collection Development - - from the Consumer and Patient Health Section of the Medical Libary Association. This resource lists several bibliographies and collection guides.
  • Choosing Health Books as a Consumer - - Created by Lea Starr at the Canadian Health Network this resource lists information such as reputable publishers, features to look for in choosing a book, as well as things to avoid.

Training Opportunites for Providing Health Information Service

There are several ways you can get training in order to provide health information services at your library. The following list will get you started.
  • Consumer Health Information Specialization Program - - through the Medical Library Association. An opportunity to earn certification to become a Consumer Health Information Specialist through a series of training classes over a period of time.
  • National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) - - A national network of medical libraries, public libraries, and other health-related agencies divided into eight regions throughout the United States. Staff at the regional offices can provide training at no cost, or refer you to someone in your area.
  • Medical Library Association (MLA) - There are lots of classes, presentations, and training opportunities at MLA's Annual Conference -, or through their regional chapters -

Back to home Next section: Overview of Community Health Information Programs