A good librarian can do a lot for your health

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Medical librarians, and the research they perform, can be an indispensable part of any health team

Some say that a doctor’s best friend is a pharmacist. As patients, we know the pharmacist works with the doctor to make sure that we get the best and safest medication for our particular medical condition, and we know that sometimes the pharmacist needs to make a change from what the doctor prescribed to better fit our overall medication profile. It is a good partnership. But doctors have another important friend that most patients do not know about.

Medical librarians work in most hospitals throughout the Greater Philadelphia area. They serve medical students throughout their training, as well as doctors and nurses, with their research and daily practice.

“We explain to the new medical residents at our annual boot camp that we can save them time and get them the information they need,” said Barbara Miller, library director of Cooper Medical School at Rowan University. “Needless to say, the young doctors immediately understand how we can benefit them.”

While many medical librarians work in a library housed in the hospital, others work right in the operating room, accessing information for surgeons as they need it. Others roam the hospital equipped with laptops and help the doctors and nurses on the patient floors.

Still others, such as those at the Connelly Resource Center for Families at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, work directly with parents. providing information on their children’s conditions. Other medical librarians work in universities as liaisons to the clinical programs such as nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language pathology, and genetic counseling.

How Patients Benefit

When nurses provide information as part of patient education, it often has been prepared by the medical library staff. The team at Cooper works closely with new nurses, training them on how to best work with the librarians, as well as with the senior nurses, teaching them how to access information from the databases that the medical librarians manage and maintain.

It is not surprising that medical librarians such as Karen Stesis, a member of the Cooper team, thinks it’s a bad idea for patients to try to diagnose themselves using random websites.

“Much of the medical information online is not accurate,” she said. “Medline Plus and other resources provided through the National Library of Medicine, free to every American, is the best use of our tax dollars. If a patient is going to seek out information online, they should go to Medline and then review what they find with their doctor. Using the information any other way is dangerous and foolish.”

The benefit to physicians

The doctors at Cooper depend on the medical library staff to help them stay current with information. “There is so much information out there on new medical discoveries and treatment options, that no one person, especially a busy doctor, can keep track of it,” said Benjamin Saracco, another recent addition to the staff. “When they need to know, we provide them with the information they need.”

Said Assistant Library Director Susan Cavanaugh: “We focus on evidence-based medicine, since that is what the doctors and the hospitals practice. When a provider needs information on a disease or a treatment option, they call upon us and we go to work as fast as we can.”

Amanda Adams, reference and instruction librarian at Cooper, describes her team’s role as “providing access to information at the point of need, whether it is in the medical office, the classroom, or on the hospital floor.”

Free consumer health information

As a medical librarian myself, I answer requests from patients throughout the country who seek articles containing easy-to-understand information on conditions such as heart disease, celiac disease, diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis. This search service, using sources such as the National Library of Medicine, the Mayo Clinic, the National Cancer Institute, and many more, is offered at no cost to patients through The Power of the Patient Project.

Bob Kieserman is executive director of the Cherry Hill-based Power of the Patient Project.