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Health Information Partnerships: Tips from a Partnership

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The Community Health Information Partnership (CHIP) of Curtis Memorial Library (public library), Parkview Adventist Medical Center and Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, Maine provides quality, health information in a variety of formats to serve patrons with a wide range of learning styles and literacy skills in the communities we serve. Visit the CHIP website at http://www.curtislibrary.com/programs-events/consumer-health-information-partnership-chip/ and select CHIP Overview to find the Executive Summary and more details.

Why are health information partnerships a good idea?

Partnerships are an effective way to fulfill your mission and bring together partners with a stake in community health and wellness.Partners can:

  • Do more with combined resources and staff.
  • Provide a more complete snapshot of community needs. The CHIP hospital partners provide diagnostic referral groups (DRGs), the public library has circulation records and inter-library loan, local employers have shared heath information needs from the workforce and community organizations and support groups share their needs.
  • Bring participating institutions closer to the community.
  • Provide leverage for additional resources because funding organizations look favorably at partnerships, especially those with a track record.
  • Generate additional opportunities to fill your organization's mission. Local organizations have approached CHIP to cosponsor public programs, create special collections, and showcase CHIP resources on community TV.
  • Contribute to controlling health care costs by reducing redundancy.
  • Increase community confidence in the output or work of the members.
  • Encourage closer communication and understanding among the members.

What can a partnership do?

There are more good partnership ideas than there are staff, time and money to carry them out. Choose carefully to meet community needs and to use staff and resources efficiently.

Some possibilities that CHIP has accomplished or tried:

  • Funding for public library health collections.
  • Health website with a focus on local and state resources.
  • Speakers on health topics.
  • Classes on using Internet health resources for area librarians and the staff at the homeless shelter.
  • Special collections for the homeless shelter, member hospitals and area libraries.
  • Special projects on diabetes prevention or other topics with brochures and books for all area libraries.
  • Booklists for children and parents on grief and bereavement, divorce, deployment.
  • Health kiosk in the public library and in the participating hospitals
  • Promoting health resources on cable TV, newspaper ads and newsletters.

If you were starting a new partnership, who would you involve as partners and involve at your institution?

Consider as potential partners hospitals or medical practices, public libraries, area employers, schools, insurance companies, senior centers, local health advocacy groups, for example, groups promoting mental health, domestic violence prevention, and information for the developmentally disabled.

Within each institution it is important to involve decision makers, a staff member or members who are champions of the partnership, staff to carry out projects and to promote the partnership. The CHIP partnership has librarians, health educators, public relations staff and administrators on the Management Committee. At the public library, staff members from every department contribute and all departments freely make suggestions for improvements.

What strategies help start and sustain a partnership?

Starting a partnership is a political process; know your institution and your community and involve decision makers and committed staff from the start. Do a joint assessment of needs and decide on a mission and goals. Start with small projects that you can fund and complete with realistic deadlines.

Sustaining funding is a challenge. Grants are likely sources for start-up costs and funding special projects, but sustainability frequently comes from within the institutions. Look for additional income streams, but selectivity in seeking grants is important. We suggest a focus on grant proposals for projects that: 1) contribute to the core mission and are sustainable, or 2) are special projects that are short-term, e.g., a speaker series or a one-time grant for diabetes education resources for area libraries.

Communication and promotion within and between institutions are essential for sustainability. CHIP makes communication active and ongoing through:

  • Regular meetings of a formal Management Committee.
  • Email between meetings.
  • Regular reports to staff, department heads, staff, administrators and boards and involved parties.
  • Record any statistics that you can keep, e.g. new items, circulation statistics, and attendance at talks. Administrators and funding agencies need data to justify expenditures.
  • Collect feedback from patients, patrons, and staff, and use it in conjunction with statistics.
  • Completing work in subcommittees when appropriate.

Marketing is very important; the community won't know the resources are there, unless you market. Some suggestions for marketing include:

  • Spine labels, gift plates, stack end signs and kiosks in the library.
  • Prominent web links to partnership information on all partner websites.
  • Press releases and slates on community TV, which are generally free.
  • Newspaper ads on health information resources.
  • Newsletters are time-consuming and expensive, but they reach donors and administrators.
  • Public service announcements on radio or TV.
  • Submit events to community and newspaper calendars.
  • Presentations at professional meetings help increase enthusiasm and reach of idea.

Other tips for sustaining a partnership include:

  • Building consensus so that all partners are represented.
  • Flexibility to meet the needs of each partner, for example, the CHIP partnership expanded geographically to cover catchment areas for the hospitals.
  • Defining institutional responsibilities clearly, e.g., CHIP hospitals provide funding, expertise and special project work, the public library acts as fiscal agent, provides staff to purchase, catalog and circulate resources, maintains the CHIP website, creates and submits promotional materials, seeks grant funding and works on special projects.
  • Finding opportunities to share resources with partners. Staff members from CHIP institutions are eligible for free cards at the public library, even if they do not live in the library service area. All three partners use public library meeting spaces. Public library reference staff refer patrons to the hospital library for help with in-depth health questions. The partnership has hosted joint online training sessions for staff.
  • Using staff time wisely to minimize increases in staff workloads. Make meetings efficient, regular and not too frequent. Have formal agendas and minutes with to-do lists and deadlines. Create a roster and a group email list and replace some meetings with email.
  • Expecting some failures, learning and growing from them. Over 10 years ago CHIP began with a health CD and computer that the hospital provided for the public library. The technology was inadequate and the partnership lost momentum. Five years later, Parkview Adventist Medical Center agreed to renew the partnership and provided an extensive start-up health collection for the reopening of the public library. The success of the collection led to the expansion and continuation of the CHIP partnership.

Update Author:

Kelli Ham, Consumer Health Coordinator, National Network of Libraries of Medicine Pacific Southwest Region, Los Angeles, CA

Original Author:

Linda Oliver, Reference Librarian and CHIP Facilitator, Curtis Memorial L ibrary, Brunswick, ME