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Big Data in Healthcare: Finding Your Niche

Posted by on September 17th, 2018 Posted in: Data Science
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In the NNLM Big Data in Healthcare: Exploring Emerging Roles course, we asked participants, as they progressed through the course, to consider the following questions: Do you think health sciences librarians should get involved with big data in healthcare? Where should librarians get involved, if you think they should? If you think they should not, explain why. You may also combine a “should/should not” approach if you would like to argue both sides. NNLM will feature responses from different participants over the coming weeks.


Written by: Brenda Fay, Library Specialist, Aurora Libraries – Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center

For librarians in health science libraries, big data in healthcare might be something of a stranger. Sure, we know that data is being collected about patients, but how do we librarians fit in? Depending on what type of library you work in, whether you’re a solo librarian, and perhaps even your comfort level learning new skills, knowledge and familiarity with data and data practices may or may not be something in your wheelhouse. I work in a large healthcare system within a team of fourteen librarians and library staff. Our institution has a research arm that is growing and growing, and yet none of us have really been involved in big data or data management practices at our institution. I don’t think that’s very unusual for a place that isn’t also an academic medical center. Can healthcare big data be overwhelming? Yes. Is big data in healthcare worth all the fuss? Yes.

Why should health science librarians get involved with big data in healthcare? With the ever-growing interest and use of data all around us, data isn’t going away anytime soon. Librarians are great at continually staying on top of trends and changes in our field, and I truly believe that health science librarians will become more and more involved, in one way or another, with data initiatives at their institutions. It’s better to be in front of the curve and helping guide the conversation, than trying to catch up when the ship has sailed. Learning about big data will keep librarians relevant. If we look at skills librarians already have, like organization and classification, taxonomies and metadata, those could immediately be leveraged into increasing the quality of research data management practices at our institutions by working with researchers on their data management plans, which many need to include on grant and funding applications. We should also get involved because there are so many free training opportunities available to us from MLA, NLM, and others. If MLA and NLM/NNLM think big data is worth supporting on such a large scale, I am onboard, too.

How might health science librarians get involved with big data in healthcare? This is much trickier and depends a lot on the situation you find yourself in. You might not be able to start any of these activities today or even next year, but knowing how other health science librarians work with big data in their institutions can inspire you to find a way where you are. Reference questions might lead you to big data. If you’ve ever been asked to find data, Kevin Read and his NYU librarian colleagues have created a data catalog (NYU Health Sciences Library, n.d.) for those looking for data sets to use, or for researchers to publish their own data. Assisting on systematic reviews or publications might lead you to big data. A 2018 study looked at Google Trends, an online source for accessing trends in Google’s search data, and laypeople’s searches for asthma (Mavragani, A, K, & KP., 2018). It had some methodological issues that a librarian would have likely pointed out right away. Building relationships with library users might lead you to big data. Librarians at NU Health Sciences Library had conversation with basic and clinical researchers at their institution to learn more about their data needs. These conversations allowed them to tailor library services to fill a gap in “community’s data issues including, but not limited to, the challenges they face when collecting, organizing, and sharing their research” (Read, Surkis, Larson, McCrillis, & Nicholson, 2015).

I firmly believe that working with big data in healthcare will raise the profile of health science librarians and the libraries they work in.

Bibliography

Mavragani, A., A, S., K, S., & KP., T. (2018). Integrating smart health in the US health care system: Infodemiology study of asthma monitoring in the Google era. JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, e24.

NYU Health Sciences Library. (n.d.). Data catalog. Retrieved August 29, 2018, from https://datacatalog.med.nyu.edu/

Read, K. B., Surkis, A., Larson, C., McCrillis, A. G., & Nicholson, J. X. (2015). Starting the data conversation: informing data services at an academic health sciences library. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 131-135.

Image of the author ABOUT Derek Johnson
Derek is a Minnesota native who relocated to Iowa in 2013. His professional experiences include public health, prospect research, competitive intelligence, and outreach librarianship. Derek and his wife reside in Coralville with their daughter and two dogs (mini goldendoodle and mini poodle)!

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This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Grant Number 1UG4LM012346 with The University of Iowa.

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