How Are We Providing Outreach to Our Consumer/Patients Patrons?

I am in the process of writing a book chapter on the librarian’s use of social media for consumer/patient education and information.  The use of social media to communicate has exploded.  It is being used to share information on natural disasters by alerting people to safety information, on the ground reports, and connecting families with each other and their possessions.  Millions of people have become citizen journalists reporting on events from the Hudson River plane (and now helicopter) landing. It is used for communication and information during protests such as the Middle East uprisings and G20 Protests. Advertisers use it to reach current and potential customers.

Two really interesting infographics illustrate how social media has become a source for  people seeking information.

This one illustrates the use of social media during a disaster. According to the graphic 76% use social media to contact friend to make sure they are safe. During the disaster social media often replaces 911 for help. One of every five survivors contact emergency responders via social media, websites, email and 44% ask their online friends to contact responders.

This graphic illustrates how social media is replacing traditional journalism as a news source.  According to the graphic 50% of people have learned about breaking news via social media rather than official news sources.  Traffic to news sites from social media platforms has increased by 57% since 2009.

So it makes sense that consumers and patients are using social media to find health information.  The Fox Business article, More Consumer Turn to Social Media for Health Care Information, says National Research surveyed over 22,000 Americans and found “96% of respondents said they used Facebook to gather information about health care while 28% used YouTube and 22% used Twitter.”  The LA Times article, Consumers Using Social Media for Medical Information,” reports results from PwC’s Health Research Institute which “underscores the need for healthcare providers and insurance companies to engage more with consumers online since they are increasingly making medical decisions based on the information they find there.”

The NIH has been active in the social media area.  The CDC tracked and provide updates during the flu outbreaks, and they have their own social media pageNLM provides a page with lots of links to follow on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.

With all of the activity on social media and the government healthcare organizations participation you would think that medical librarians would be using social media to reach their consumers and patients.  You would think.  But, I found very few articles in the library literature of using social media to connect consumers to medical/health information.  There was a lot more written on using social media to reach library users, BUT these papers defined their users as medical or health care students or professionals.  I even used social media to ask what librarians are doing with social media and consumer outreach.  It yielded only a few examples (most people pointed to the NIH and NLM).

When I lurk on the MEDLIB-L list and attend programs at various conferences, patient education and outreach seems to be a big topic.  However, it seems we are using more traditional means of providing health information to consumers and are not using social media to reach them.  We are either waiting for them to come to us, we are attending health fairs, or we are rounding with health care members and providing information on the spot.  These are all perfectly good methods of providing information.  Yet I wonder why more medical librarians are not embracing the social media to provide consumer health information.

So far, I think I found 2 primary reasons.  The first is that some hospitals have a very tight control over their social media presence and are understandably reluctant to let anything go through the web world without having the official hospital stamp from marketing.  This can make it extremely difficult for a librarian to get involved.  The second reason is a trickier concept, but worth chewing on.  How does a librarian define their patrons on the social media?  A librarian in Florida might provide information on Twitter to somebody in California. Is  that their patron?  How do they justify that to their administration who wants patients in their region who will spend money with them?  How does a librarian do consumer outreach to their hospital’s potential patient base via social media?  Additionally, how can a librarian measure their results?  I could send out a ton of tweets on flu shots but is that effective and how do I measure that?  At least the NIH knows its user base,  the entire U. S. population.

My confusion about medical librarians providing consumer/patient health information outreach was further muddied when I saw the recent news about public librarians helping Americans sign up for health care insurance under the Affordable Care Act.  ALA just had program “Libraries & Health Insurance: Preparing for October 1” with Ruth Holst, associate director at NNLM/GMR as one of the speakers.   Since Ruth is one of the speakers, I have got to think somebody at some hospital or academic medical library is doing this.  I have seen her post about website on GMR email list.  I also saw Shannon & Jana’s posts on MEDLIB-L about the ACA and libraries.  However I haven’t seen anybody post about what their  hospital or academic medical library is doing. Is it too soon for that kind of a post?

Has the role of the hospital librarian changed?  Are we leaning away from consumer health information outreach?  Are we only interested in consumers that we can quantify…i.e. those who cross the hospital’s threshold? While I am a medical librarian, I don’t do consumer outreach.  So perhaps my sights aren’t focused in the right areas.  Thoughts?


3 thoughts on “How Are We Providing Outreach to Our Consumer/Patients Patrons?”

  1. Interesting post Michelle, and very topical. Hospitals in Australia also have the same issue with interacting with consumers, and it is a bind because the issue of declining health literacy. I’m going to try a no-cost partnership with public libraries in our catchment areas to further the heatlth lit program my predecessor established. If I can do that, it will be a Win all round. The other issue is declining heatlh resources. The Public Affairs dept where I work which is the interface between the hospital and the community, has no money to anything At All. Money to build their consumer health section on the hospital website? Sorry, no. If we want to pursue a heatlh literacy program, we will have to look for low-cost options and get buy-in from management re doing these things on work time. I think it important enough to persist in trying to find a soloution. Re measurement – maybe different metrics will have to be used.
    – Catherine –

  2. Krafty,

    I think the way for medical libraries can do health information outrach is via partnerships. We collaborate with community organizations, non-profits, public libraries, etc who are talking to the public every day. As medical librarians we can provide training to the stakeholders themselves and/or to their constituents. This way our institutions who may restrict social media options as you mentioned do not have to worry about how the information is getting out. We leave this to our partners to do as they are already doing it.

    Just some thoughts. I am co-authoring a chapter on Health Infromation Outreach so this information is part of what we are discussing but in a more formal/academic manner


  3. Dear Ms. Kraft,

    I am an the editorial board for the Journal of Consumer Health on the Internet, which is a publication geared toward medical librarians. Would you be interested in submitting an article about your work? Please advise and I can email you my contact information.

    Thank you in advance.
    Jennifer Moyer, BSN, RN

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