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Partnerships in Health Information


Partnerships in Health Information

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend an evening at the House of Lords to support Partnerships in Health Information (PHI) It was a great evening on the terrace overlooking Guys Hospital on the Thames with a large number of people all interested in and supporting PHI and their partners.

The weather that evening may have helped the amount of joy and happiness that was on display (rare for England but it was hot that day!) as well as the sharing of ideas and meeting new contacts.

Book Aid InternationalIt’s what happens after such gatherings that is really important though. It led me to think about my own health and the way in which we in the UK discover health information, a country that is rich in terms of information provision in comparison to Africa. An initiative such as the Health Hubs in Kenyan Libraries that was implemented by KNLS (Kenya National Library Service) together with Book Aid International and supported by funding from Elsevier Foundation could well be applied in the UK. It promoted the idea of community interaction with service providers.

Most of the information I find for my own health comes via the web. It never occurs to me to use the Public Library service having been “conditioned” to thinking over many years that it is either the doctor’s surgery or the web that I will find health information.

Libraries in UK hospitals are very focused on the needs of internal staff – doctors and nurses primarily. This is their original purpose, supporting the education of those we rely on to make us better.

In a patient centred environment it got me thinking why not have these libraries open to provide on-line access to the very patients who are using the hospital services? Self help and awareness go a long way to prevention. A colleague with a debilitating problem that affected him severely and remained undiagnosed, found himself having to plough through masses of information on the web and using sources such as PubMed, to try to research his condition. It was over a year before he found the condition described and a doctor who specialised in it.  Initiatives such as that at North Lincolnshire go some way to provide expert information for patients and is a great aid to those with long term health issues.

But do I  hear the sound of doctors bemoaning the idea of a patient self diagnosing what ails him/her and second-guessing the practitioner. From a personal point of view I would rather have a good source of information validated by evidence and librarians trained in search and information access than a drug company advertising and sponsored web articles.

If we can put up to date, evidence based sources of health information into the hands of professionals and the community and especially decision makers and policy makers, health literacy will make great strides forward bringing benefits to individuals and families. Perhaps we could learn some lessons from our friends in Africa on this one!