Health Information for Consumers in Developing Nations: A Medical Librarian’s Perspective

Health Information for Consumers in Developing Nations: A Medical Librarian’s Perspective

Vasumathi Sriganesh (Qmed Knowledge Foundation, Andheri East, Mumbai, MH, India)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/ijudh.2013010104
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Health information, both professional as well as consumer oriented, is an important component of the health care service. Professionals constantly need information for academics, research, preventive care, treatment and also to stay updated and to create and update health policies. Consumers need health information to stay healthy and to manage diseases and conditions. Generic search engines like Google and Yahoo answers are utilized extensively for getting health information (Akerkar & Bichile, 2004). However while utilizing these engines information seekers most often have to sift through volumes of data that often includes questionable sources of information. Health professionals face lacunae in receiving training about information resources and databases, and structured approach to searching these. Both consumers and health professionals spend far too much time searching for information, time that could be utilized much better in the actual health care delivery process. This article describes a medical librarian’s journey from being a health information consumer to a health information provider both to health professionals and consumers.
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All of us are healthcare consumers at one or more times in our lives. I have been no exception. As a child I wondered why I had to have horrible tasting “mixtures” or worse, painful injections to get rid of any sickness. As I grew up the questions evolved into more mature ones. As an undergraduate student of science I had my share of wonder as to how the human body worked in various health and disease conditions. I sought answers from my course work and accepted without questioning, all that I learned in my textbooks. Having studied these I thought “I knew it all”.

I always thought that people imbibed their maximum knowledge only during their formal education. I had never given a thought to how they would learn more later in life. I thought their learning came with a combination of experience, interaction with peers and by ‘some’ methods that they would figure out by themselves. Thankfully I was humble enough to also know that I always would need to learn more, but this I assumed would be from what I would study if I did a post graduate education.

It was much later when I studied library sciences, worked in libraries, especially medical libraries I realized that staying updated in one’s professional discipline on a regular basis was a major responsibility. Not only was it a responsibility but also that there was a component of scientific approach for doing so. This, I felt was even more strong in the medical profession because it dealt with human lives. I soon realized that librarians had a major role in this area because they were a very essential component of the bit regarding structured approach to keep oneself updated. It sank into me that we had to ensure that health professionals learned these skills and took our professional help for their own development and equally importantly for the consumers and patients they took care of.

A Healthcare Consumer

With time I learned that it was certainly not enough for only health professionals to keep up-to-date and offer evidence-based health options to their patients and community, but it was equally important for consumers to be well informed and take their share of responsibility for their health care decisions. There are times that it is difficult for consumers to take decisions and this maybe for a variety of reasons. But it is important for them to then own the responsibility of leaving the decision to their doctor or their relatives / near ones. For health consumers to be responsible, they need to have access to reliable information, gain knowledge about understanding the basics of health research (from a patient’s perspective). and understand that while there maybe major advances in the health care domain happening on a continuous basis, there are limitations too. adopt a balanced approach to managing their health situations. Consumers again have no one to train them to go to authentic resources and there are very few Indian health resources on the web that are aimed to educate consumers in a structured fashion.

After my childhood experiences, like many others, I have experienced larger health concerns at various stages of my life. As a young adult, I had problems conceiving. I had had a fall resulting in hairline crack in my fibula. I used to suffer severe allergic rhinitis. When family members had health problems ranging from arthritis to spinal injuries, I had a million questions as a care giver. Like everyone I went to the doctor, followed his/her instructions but always had more questions in my head, some that I could ask, some that I felt I could not, some that I’d forget to ask. “How much could I bother a doctor with ….” was always a big question in my mind.

The seed for the need for good consumer information was sown deep inside me.

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