The College of DuPage did a teleconference this week on health reference. Reference librarians in particular should take note as the speaker, Debra Kakuk Smith, said that just 27% of people go to a health specific site when researching a medical problem or drug. Instead a general internet search is the norm. Worse still, only a third of these people talk to a health care professional about the information they find. So advertising your health and medical resources could be a matter of life and death. As Smith points out, dealing with medical issues can be quite stressful and this is an extremely vulnerable time for customers – they could really use our help.
She’s posted an extensive list of websites and print resources and recommends perusing The MLA Guide to Health Literacy at the Library as a great way for librarians to improve their skills in this area. Medline Plus is her favorite online site as their information is written with consumers in mind and they have a full Spanish language interface plus a section with topics in over 40 different languages (this is important as she cautions against letting a child interpret for a parent who isn’t a native English speaker – though she did point out that patients have the right to get a translation from their health care providers). Of course, native English speakers can also struggle with medical terminology, which requires a tenth grade reading level to comprehend.
She also stressed that we should be absolutely sure to have the correct spelling of the disease (and especially the medication as so many sound so similar) – let the patron call their doctor’s office for confirmation if they aren’t completely sure. Confidentiality and sensitivity were also covered – a given for librarians, but so important when it comes to health problems.