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The Medical Library Association Consumer Health

A 2015 Pew Research Center Study revealed that "73% of all those ages 16 and over say libraries contribute to people finding the health information they need. 42% of those who have gone online at a library using its computers, internet connections or Wi-Fi have done so for health-related searches."

the medical library association consumer health

In 2013, the Pew Research Internet Project reported that "59% of U.S. adults say they have looked online for information about a range of health topics in the past year. 35% of U.S. adults say they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have."

Whether people search for personal health information or for a loved one, millions of consumers view millions of health-related web pages. Sometimes the information found is just what was needed. Other searches end in frustration or retrieval of inaccurate, even dangerous, information.

This guide outlines the collective wisdom of medical librarians who search the web every day to discover quality information in support of clinical and scientific decision making by doctors, scientists, and other health practitioners responsible for the nation's health. This guide is supported by the Medical Library Association (MLA), the library organization whose primary purpose is promoting quality information for improved health and whose members were the first to realize that not all health information on the web is credible, timely, or safe.

The guide is presented in three brief sections. The first section, "Getting Started," provides tips on filtering health-related web pages through the health subsets of major search engines and using quality electronic finding tools developed by the U.S. government to do an initial screen of websites for further examination. This section is followed by a set of guidelines developed for evaluating the content of health-related websites. The final section points to other information of interest to consumers searching for health-related information on the web.

2. Become familiar with the general health information finding tools such as MedlinePlus ( ), produced by the National Library of Medicine, or Healthfinder ( ) from the US Department of Health and Human Services, which can get you started by pointing you to good, credible health information quickly. The Medical Library Association's "Top Health Websites" is another device to help you start your search with a highly selective list of quality consumer health information sites trusted by medical librarians.

The MLA Consumer Health Information Specialization (CHIS) offers training in providing health information services to consumers and recognition for the accomplishment of acquiring new health information skills.

Your CHIS shows employers, colleagues, and the public you serve that you are committed to offering quality consumer health information services and to staying current with developments in consumer health information resources, technologies, and services. For more information on the specialization, download the MLA Consumer Health Information Specialization brochure.

These MLA-approved consumer health courses have been developed and selected for the MLA Consumer Health Specialization. Use the CHIS Competencies Tracking Grid to ensure that you take courses in the required competencies.

If you complete an educational activity, a Discussion Group activity, Independent Reading Program activity, webinar, or other activity not on the list of MLA-approved consumer health courses and would like to have it considered for meeting a CHIS requirement, please fill out an Individual Participant Request (IPR) form and submit it with your application.

LIS and iSchool instructors can also get their class approved to offer CHIS through the Consumer Health for Library Students program. In partnership with the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM), NNLM is delighted to guide LIS and iSchool instructors through getting their classes approved to offer CHIS certificates to students. Teaching an MLA-approved consumer health course in your program allows students to gain knowledge in providing health information services to patrons and recognition for the accomplishment of gaining new health information skills from future employers.

Medical librarians who have developed knowledge of clinical medicine, expertise in evidence-based medicine, and techniques of information retrieval have the primary skills required to become informationists. However, the ancillary content, which should be part of every clinical medical librarian's knowledgebase, includes the areas of health care economics, health care ethics, and medical sociology. With such a familiarity, clinical medical librarians of today would have a greater chance of qualifying as informationists.

Health sciences librarians have been trained to be experienced searchers, and many would argue that there is no more efficient and effective way health providers, and even health care consumers, can acquire quality information than through librarians. Regardless of the validity of this argument, reality dictates that with the advent of PubMed and the Web, both health care providers and health care consumers are doing their own information retrieval in greater and greater numbers. To move from information provider to effective evidence educator requires not only knowledge of the subject, but also grounding in adult learning theory and teaching techniques.

For most of the past century, master's level coursework in library and information science was prescribed to fit a generalist level of library work. However, as the profession became more specialized, not only was specific and advanced coursework in health sciences librarianship desirable, but specific courses targeting specialized skills became important in the reengineered health sciences library environment. Unfortunately, most library schools responded to this work force demand by offering more electives rather than by extending the required coursework necessary for a specialization, something done by a few schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s but eventually phased out due to economic considerations.

Students wanting to become health sciences librarians need more training. They will serve a professional clientele with specialized needs. A formal second year of both coursework and internship would enhance the health sciences information profession's ability to meet and exceed clients' specialized information needs. Achieving this will require a great deal of effort. Only a few library schools may opt to do this, but the rewards would be enormous, to the profession and to the individuals taking part in such training.

Beyond the basic CE courses, MLA continually seeks instructors to develop and offer classes in areas vital to professional growth. The association also solicits courses and instructors for topics that are timely and of current interest to its members. The symposia at the annual meetings are just one venue of this new and dynamic approach to promoting skill development for new roles for health sciences librarians.

Two new concepts have recently been introduced to promote retooling MLA members. A consumer health credential is being offered through the CE program, which requires completion of five continuing-education courses about consumer health information services. The certificate of completion validates the credential and enables members to demonstrate that they have achieved a professionally recognized level of competence in this new area. A technology credential program, designed along similar lines as the consumer health credential, is planned.

While promising to have a significant impact on the profession, credential and certificate programs still do not address all of the educational needs of health information professionals. Other models need to be explored and fostered in today's health care marketplace. One such model is the medical informatics librarian fellowship program supported by NLM through its medical informatics training grants. Designed for mid-career librarians, these individuals work closely with M.D. and Ph.D. medical informatics fellows as part of a training team. These programs have the potential not only for developing new and exciting skill sets but also fostering deeper levels of understanding among the medical informatics fellows as to what each can bring to project management.

Several decades ago, MLA certified medical librarians through a certification examination. Aimed chiefly at enhancing professional recognition in institutions, the program was marginally successful but did not translate into peer status for librarians as part of health care teams and was very costly to administer. This program was reengineered into the Academy of Health Information Professionals (AHIP). Rather than being a credentialing or certification program, the academy is a peer-recognition program with specific requirements for the various membership levels.

Credentialing and certification imply training, evaluation, and demonstrated competency. Health care providers are credentialed to perform certain procedures through documented, successful performance of those procedures for a specified period of time. Librarians will be credentialed in consumer health through documented completion of specific courses leading to core competencies. Computer professionals receive product certification from technology companies in areas such as systems engineering through attendance and competency demonstration at professional training classes. Health sciences librarians may soon be able to receive certification from partnership universities through distance-learning certificate programs.

At a global level, MLA works with other organizations to continually monitor and assess the environment and reengineer programs to meet members' needs. Areas of particular interest include defining new roles for health sciences librarians and offering timely and targeted skill development training to enable members to fill these roles. One such initiative is an invited symposium, sponsored by MLA at the National Library of Medicine in March 2002 that will examine the concept of the informationist as it relates to potential opportunities and changes in the profession and education for the profession. MLA's work in conjunction with other library organizations on the accreditation process for library school master's programs will help influence the direction education for the profession takes in the years ahead.

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