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Medical Librarians, Your Doctor, and You

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. Let me introduce you to the medical librarian.

There are medical librarians working in most of our hospitals throughout the Greater Philadelphia area. They serve medical students throughout their training as well as the doctors and nurses with their research and daily practice. While many medical librarians work in a library housed in the hospital, others work right in the operating room, accessing information for the surgeons as they need it during surgical procedures. Others roam the hospital equipped with laptops and help the doctors and nurses on the patient floors. Still others, like those at the Connelly Resource Center for Families at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, work directly with parents providing information on the medical conditions of their children. 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.

A Dedicated Profession

The profession is guided by the Medical Library Association and the Philadelphia Chapter is very active. One of its board members is Amanda Adams, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University. One of two newest members of a large staff that serves both the medical school and the hospital, Amanda explains the role of the medical librarian as “providing access to information at the point of need, whether it is in the medical office, the classroom, or on the hospital floor”. Barbara Miller, Library Director, adds, “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. Needless to say, the young doctors immediately understand how we can benefit them”. The team at Cooper also provides many classes and training programs to support the doctors and nurses to meet their obligations for continuing medical education.

How Patients Benefit

When nurses provide information to their patients as part of patient education, that information has often been prepared by the medical library staff.  The team at Cooper works closely with both 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.

The Benefit to the Physicians

The doctors at Cooper depend on the medical library staff to help them stay current with information. As Benjamin Saracco, another recent addition to the staff, explains, “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. That is where we become important in the healthcare delivery system. Using our resources and databases, we compile the most up-to-the-minute information. When they need to know, we provide them with the information they need."

Assistant Library Director Susan Cavanaugh agrees. “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."

Patients Need Accurate Information

So, why can’t we just go the internet and find the information ourselves? Karen Stesis, a member of the Cooper team with decades of experience working side by side with doctors, sums it up by stating, “Patients should not self-diagnose using the internet. Much of the medical information online is not accurate. 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.”

Consumer Health Information

As a medical librarian myself, I work in the area of consumer health information services. Using sources such as the National Library of Medicine, the Mayo Clinic, the National Cancer Institute, and many more, 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 is offered at no cost to the patient through The Power of the Patient Project


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