Friday, November 16, 2007

Librarian floating in a sea of MDs: report from a medical conference*

As mentioned in the "About me" section of this blog, last week I attended the STFM Conference for Practise Improvement: Patient Education and Health Information, where I presented a paper titled: Implementing an integrated information prescription model in family medicine. The PowerPoint presentation is available at the Family Medicine Digital Resources Library for anyone who is interested. You need to register to have access but registration is free.

The presentation went very well. I had a mere 20 mins to present but discussion continued for another 20. Two MD's have expressed an interest in implementing a similar model and we will hopefully be in touch.

I would like to share some thoughts about what it's like to be a librarian attending a non- librarian conference. The problem is that I have never been to a library conference so I don't have any basis for comparison. I can't say whether certain aspects of my experience are unique to me, to this particular conference, whether they are unique to medical conferences, or whether they apply to conferences in general. Perhaps I will hold off on trying to analyse my experience on any profound level until I have attended an actual library conference.

I will say that I met and spoke with many interesting people, particularly at the poster sessions where I was able to chat with the representative from UptoDate who told me that librarians are their toughest critics, and with several people from the Mayo Clinic who
work in the area of patient education and were surprisingly modest about their work, and the incredible resources they have at their disposal.

What was missing to some degree was the urge to connect again in future, which I suspect would have been there had we been professional colleagues. In general my impression is that librarians are respected for the work they do, it is recognized that much of what we do overlaps and even sometimes duplicates the work of health care workers in the area of consumer health education, and our resources are being used with enthusiasm. But we are nonetheless justifiably considered separate entities from the health care team. This model (perception? habit? philosophy?) is of course what I am working to change at my own clinic, for the most part successfully.

If teams are to be truly multi and interdisciplinary, then it stands to reason (at least to my mind) that they should include members of any profession who brings added value to the care the team provides. In order for this to happen, more of my professional colleagues will need to enter the trenches (this is a challenge in every sense of the word).

The question is: why is this so important?

The first and most important reason in my mind is that of trust. This is something I got to thinking about when I was preparing my presentation. It was of course necessary for me to answer the question: why in house? There were several reasons (the library is far, the health professionals need support too, the librarian is better placed to understand the needs of the community) but the one that resonated most, for myself and for my audience, was trust. Trust can come into the equation in several important ways:
  1. The health professional may be more likely to trust the librarian to provide health information to his or her patient if the consult is treated as a clinical encounter and documented in the chart.

  2. The patient or family member may be more likely to trust the librarian to provide health information if their doctor or nurse has referred them to a service which is down the hall from the exam room.

  3. Perhaps most importantly: the patient or family member may be more likely to trust that their doctor or nurse wants them to be informed and is willing to discuss the information they are accessing, if the information is being provided by a member of the health care team. The message then is this: we want you to be empowered, we support shared decision making.

*My apologies for not posting last week. I was hoping to be able to publish a post from the conference but at $4 per 15 mins of Internet time it didn't end up being reasonable.

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