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A health library for you
A health library for you
Do you have a health issue that you’d like to better understand? BeWell spoke with Nora Cain, director of the Stanford Health Library, about the free research services provided there to anyone who needs help, and also about the Health Library’s interest in helping BeWell participants in the New Year.
Who can use the Stanford Health Library?
The Stanford Hospital Health Library is open to everyone who can find us — whether people walk into our library branches, call us on the phone or find us on the internet. Best of all, our services are free!
How is the library’s research different from the research I can do by myself on the internet?
Although there is wonderful information on the free internet, you cannot readily access subscription journals, databases and medical textbooks. The Stanford Health Library has resources that allow you to go deeper into a subject, helping to provide answers to the more difficult, nuanced health questions.
The library also houses a most valuable resource — our medical librarians, who are trained to research and dive deeply into those databases on your behalf. Throw them a particularly tough question and you’ll make their day. Good librarians are about half detective; there is nothing they love more than being the person who finds the appropriate materials that answer the question, or teaches a patron how to find the materials themselves.
Could you provide an example?
Recently, a woman with Parkinson’s disease came into the library to learn more about deep brain stimulation therapy. One of our librarians, Carmen Huddleston, introduced her and her husband to “UpToDate,” a paid information source not available to them on the free internet. Carmen retrieved information on clinical trials for deep brain stimulation that allowed the couple to understand the benefits and risks, the Parkinson’s symptoms helped and not helped by the procedure, the targets in the brain that are best for neurostimulation and more. Equally importantly, the information reduced their anxiety and allowed them to better partner with their neurologist and medical team.
The same woman utilized our library in 2009 to research her breast cancer and was able to determine, based upon a Canadian clinical trial, that she could reduce the number of radiation fractions from the standard 25 to 16. In this case, having access to the most up-to-date research allowed her to minimize the physical discomfort from the radiation treatment.
What is the biggest mistake made when researching medical issues?
People often cannot distinguish nor evaluate the source of the material that they are reading. Not all information is created equal, and much of what is on the free internet is there to sell you something, even though it looks “scientific.”
How can you help BeWell participants?
The universe of online health and wellness information is very large, so we have created a special website for the main health issues facing BeWell participants. Our Stanford health librarians have vetted the information for BeWell by starting with Stanford experts and other respected sources. The principal advantage to participants is the customized research; they can ask a librarian any question and have access to in-depth research journals not available on the free internet.
What has surprised you the most about the library’s evolution over the last 25 years?
Twenty-five years ago patients and consumers could not get their hands on much health information, and doctors were afraid patients would get bad information. Therefore, many doctors wanted to control what patients knew. Now that we are nearly inundated with information, some of the doctors’ fears have been borne out, frankly. The average consumer still needs someone to navigate them through the maze of potentially irrelevant or false information. The library and librarians are still doing that job, and physicians are relieved when they know we have helped the patient through the information-seeking process.
… any final thoughts?
Working at the Stanford Hospital Health Library is a privilege. Every day I learn something new. I gain greater respect for my colleagues and I see the value in our work reflected in the patients and families who come back to tell us that the information we found for them made a big difference.
Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna Ryan.