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Demonstrating the value of librarians within the organization to improve patient’s experience throughout their healthcare interaction

This month, in celebration of National Medical Librarians Month, we will be sharing stories of librarians who have advocated for librarians or for libraries. We are kicking off our celebration with a story about a librarian advocating for her consumer health library and the need for health literacy by Amy Six-Means.

Demonstrating the value of librarians within the organization to improve patient’s experience throughout their healthcare interaction
by Amy Six-Means, MLIS, Hanesbrands Health Learning Center, Forsyth Medical Center, Winston-Salem, NC

Right after completing my MLIS, I started a position as a clinical medical librarian. At my first Mid-Atlantic Chapter meeting that year, I first heard the term “health literacy.” As a former elementary teacher, this captured my attention and I investigated it. The more deeply I investigated and learned, the more involved I wanted to become in helping healthcare professionals and healthcare consumers become aware of health literacy and its impact.  Empowering patients by being more aware of how to support and increase health literacy and therefore strengthen patient-healthcare interactions became my passion.

In January of 2008, I realized the beginning of that passion becoming a reality when I was hired by Novant Health (NH) to be their first Consumer Health Librarian. My goal to empower patients was slow to start. Many had heard the term “health literacy” but were unable to internalize it so that it could be incorporated into the organization more thoroughly. About a year ago this changed as the organization initiated a system of Organizational Improvements.

One of these was a strategy to improve patient “Voice and Choice.” I saw an opportunity and after sharing with the Director of Patient Services here at Forsyth Medical Center about how I became a consumer health librarian, I was asked to be part of the Novant Health Patient Education Team. As part of that corporate group, I have had the pleasure of being heavily involved in several team initiatives to improve the information we offer to patients. I was then asked, because of my health literacy expertise, to be one of the persons responsible for revamping the 30+ page corporate diabetes manual. That was a project with which I was honored to be asked to participate. It not only introduced me to more of my organizational colleagues, who may or may not have known about how the consumer health library could support their patient education, but also allowed me to offer suggestions about the manual to address and meet health literacy guidelines. I have been pleased by the overwhelmingly positive feedback by the majority of reviewers.

My involvement with the NH Patient Ed Team has opened another opportunity which will further expand the improvement of patient-healthcare interaction.  Recently, I was approached by someone in Administration as they were looking to change all their materials and processes for the Ambulatory Surgical Centers across the corporation. They were interested in knowing if the librarians could help them as they seek to find better ways to utilize resources in the Ambulatory Surgical Centers. Overall, they realize the value of providing information to patients and families that they can understand and act upon prior to as well as following a procedure. Their several goals include; 1) reducing patient/family fear and stress caused by not knowing what to expect, 2) improving patient satisfaction by giving better information about their surgery experience, and 3) improving patient safety and comfort throughout the healthcare experience. This last goal will be realized through 1) better patient compliance, and 2) empowering patients to know when to call their healthcare provider.

I was thrilled that we were approached to participate in this, a result of my work with the NH Patient Education Team.  It demonstrated that those within the highest levels of the organization realize how health literacy can positively impact the healthcare experience of patients and families. It also demonstrated the realization of the significant role we librarians have to offer in the process of organizational change.

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