Can a Librarian’s Research Impact Patient Care?

I have been a medical librarian for over 25 years. (Funny, it I don’t feel that old.) In all those years I have been asked all sorts of questions about my job. The questions pretty much fall into 2 categories.

  1. Why do we need a medical librarian?
  2. What do you do as a medical librarian?

Since I find that most people form their idea of a librarian based off of their experiences from school or the public library, I understand that the area of medical librarianship is foreign to them.

One of the answers I provide to inquiring minds is: “We help doctors and nurses find information to better treat patients.” I find that answer often times helps people understand. Sometimes, I am asked for specifics on how our research helps clinicians treat patients. And in those instances I give personal examples of how the information I found helped treat a patient.

These stories are meaningful and illustrate our impact, but how often do we as a profession track how our research is used? I find it difficult. For every 100 searches or articles retrieved I maybe hear back from 1 person about how they used it. That is why this article caught my attention, “Analysis of a Hospital Librarian Mediated Literature Search Service at a Regional Health Service in Australia.” Siemensma, G. Clayworth C. Journal of Hospital Librarianship. 2021, 21(1) 11-19.

The librarians in Australia, analyzed mediated literature search services to determine the impact of the service in their hospital. The authors noted there have been several larger studies (Marshall: JMLA. 2013 Jan;101(1):38–46. doi:10.3163/1536-5050.101.1.007) on the value of medical libraries, but their study was to look more granularly at a specific library service’s impact within their hospital.

Over the course of one year, librarians sent out 282 surveys (one for every search they conducted) and had a 40% response rate. The results from the survey indicated that the librarian’s research had an impact on patient care as well as in other areas of clinicians’ hospital work.

According Siemensma and Clayworth, clinicians reported the searches impacted patient care in the following ways:

  • 83% reported obtaining new knowledge
  • 46% reported it helped confirm current clinical practice
  • 35% reported it led to improved policy/procedure
  • 32% reported modification of the current clinical practice

Other ways patient care was impacted were in diagnosis, length of stay, choice of tests, choice of medications, advice given to patient, and increased productivity.

Regarding productivity, survey responders reported utilizing the library’s search services saved them a “minimum of 4 hours.” In fact 33 of the 112 people indicated that they saved greater than 7 hours of time saved.

As we continue to look at the impact of librarians in hospitals it is a good idea to do these types of smaller studies so that we have the hard data along with the personal stories. My hope is that some day someone outside of medical librarianship understand how we can make an impact and they no longer ask “What does a medical librarian do and why do we need them,” because they will know we help doctors and nurses find information to better treat patients.

Read the full article to learn more about their study and their survey. Here are more articles on the impact of librarian search services.

Effects of librarian-provided services in healthcare settings: a systematic review. Perrier L, Farrell A, Ayala AP, Lightfoot D, Kenny T, Aaronson E, Allee N, Brigham T, Connor E, Constantinescu T, Muellenbach J, Epstein HA, Weiss A.J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2014 Nov-Dec;21(6):1118-24. doi: 10.1136/amiajnl-2014-002825.

Evaluation of hospital staff’s perceived quality of librarian-mediated literature searching services. McKeown S, Konrad SL, McTavish J, Boyce E.J Med Libr Assoc. 2017 Apr;105(2):120-131. doi: 10.5195/jmla.2017.201.

A User Survey Finds that a Hospital Library Literature Search Service has a Direct Impact on Patient Care. Stovold E. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. 2015 10(3):108-110.