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Ask a Librarian!—August 2010-from JAAPA

Posted by Editor on August 10, 2010

We are excited to have another guest columnist here at Ask a Librarian! This month we welcome Patricia Devine, MLS, who works for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (a program coordinated by the National Library of Medicine) in Seattle, Washington.

…And now, without further ado, here is Patricia Devine.

Question: Are there statistics available to show the cost effectiveness of hospital libraries? If JCAHO doesn’t require it, why should my hospital spend the money needed to maintain a hospital library?

Answer: Recommendations have been made by the Joint Commission and other organizations, such as the American Medical Association, to address current challenges in health care management, including training for the health care workforce, adoption of new technologies, and patient-centered care (Vital Pathways for Hospital Librarians: Addressing the Hospital’s Information and Training Needs. Executive Summary).

Professional medical librarians play key roles in the efficiency of hospital operations by providing and disseminating evidenced-based resources, supporting research efforts, and coordinating education opportunities for providers and patients.

Here are three ways medical librarians can help improve hospital operations and cost effectiveness:

  1. Addressing information needs of providers. Librarians are skilled researchers who can provide quality information efficiently, saving time and money by channeling evidenced-based resources directly to the health care providers and thus freeing up more time for actual patient care. Librarians can assist with resources and point-of-care tools to be accessed directly from the electronic medical record (EMR), improving care by making information available rapidly.
  2. Improving safety of patients. Patient safety is a major issue in the assessment of hospitals, and the Joint Commission’s 2010 National Patient Safety Goals include preventing infection, care in prescribing, and teaching patients about their medications. Medical librarians reduce risk and enhance patient safety by keeping the health care provider aware of current standards, providing an easily accessible link to standards online or in the EMR, and serving as an education coordinator or advisor to committees such as infection control, patient safety, and quality improvement. Research shows that having access to library services improves patient care (Weightman AL, Williamson J. The value and impact of information provided through library services for patient care: a systematic review. Health Inf Libr J. 2005;22(1):4-25).
  3. Promoting patient education. Improved health information literacy results in better health outcomes for patients. Patients with low health information literacy are less likely to access preventive services, may not understand medication regimens, develop more chronic conditions, and are at increased risk for hospitalization. Low health literacy is a major source of economic inefficiency in the US health care system. (Low Health Literacy: Implications for National Health Policy. George Washington University, 2007). Librarians can also provide appropriate patient education materials for clinicians’ use, or the library can serve as a patient education center.

Hospital librarians play a critical part in fulfilling the hospital mission. They provide quality research, organize resources efficiently, contribute to important committees, and assist with patient education, providing a competitive edge for the hospitals in which they work.


Jim Anderson is a physician assistant in the Department of Neurological Surgery at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He is a former chair of the AAPA’s Committee on Diversity and a member of the JAAPA editorial board. Susan Klawansky is a medical librarian at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

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