Patients need help finding medical information, U-M study finds

Librarians provided new information, resources for 95 percent of patients

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Despite the ease and availability of Internet searches, cancer patients looking for information about their disease found more information by seeking help from a librarian than by searching on their own, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Patients and families visiting the Cancer Center's Patient Education Resource Center were surveyed about the information they received in response to a search request. For 65 percent of visitors, the professional search returned information they had not obtained from other sources, and an additional 30 percent said the librarian provided some new information. Only 4 percent of users said they found all the same information on their own.

"Just because the information is there doesn't mean people can access it. Not everyone is on the Internet. And of those who are, only a few are knowledgeable about search strategies and techniques that are key to locating quality information on medical issues. Every search on Google or Yahoo! will turn up a list of results, but these results do not necessarily link to the best information sources about a topic," says Ruti Volk, M.S.I, a librarian and manager of the Patient Education Resource Center at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Volk will present her findings Sunday, May 21, at the Medical Library Association's annual meeting in Phoenix.

The study included 513 evaluations from visitors to the Patient Education Resource Center, or PERC. Evaluations included multiple choice questions and a space to write comments.

The PERC is a full service library with a comprehensive collection of print and audiovisual resources on all aspects of cancer, from disease and treatment information to coping and support resources. More than 4,000 people visited the PERC last year.

A librarian can access resources not available to the general public at home, including subscription-based databases and a collection of print resources accumulated over time and through experience. But Volk says the biggest advantage a librarian adds is expertise in searching.

"I do this every day – I should do it better than other people. I'm very familiar with the resources and know how to find patient-friendly information that is reliable, unbiased and current. I can get things that other people can't just because of my expert searching skills and my experience and familiarity with the information sources," Volk says.

Volk suggests people who are looking to gain an in-depth understanding of their condition, or who have questions about complex medical issues and state-of-the-art therapies enlist the help of a professional librarian. Even through there are some quality consumer-health Web sites, such as medlineplus.gov, one-stop sites tend to have general, basic, introductory level information only. A librarian can locate resources that offer more specific, detailed and comprehensive information.

"Different people have different styles of information. There's no one-stop shopping for health information," she says.

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Karen Hammelef, M.S., director of patient and family support services and patient education at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, was co-author on the study.

Reference: Medical Library Association Annual Meeting and Exhibition, Phoenix, Ariz., May 19-24, 2006.


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