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Librarians and the Diagnostic Team

Posted by on December 4th, 2017 Posted in: Patient Engagement, Webinars
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Last winter, I joined the staff at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region. I had a solid background in libraries. I worked in public libraries from 1996-2008, and in a hospital library from 2008-2016. I was very familiar with NNLM NER, but I knew less about other regional and the national offices. I subscribed to the NNLM YouTube page to have easy access to recorded NNLM webinars. At the end of September, I viewed this webinar from the National Library of Medicine, Midcontinental Region (MCR).

I encourage you to watch it.

During the webinar, Dr. Graber mentioned the upcoming Diagnostic Error in Medicine 10th International Conference in Newton, MA. The preconference, Patients as Partners in the Diagnostic Process, was free. Lucky me! If I was willing to give up a Saturday (and I was), I could easily drive to this event.

Dr. Graber welcomed us to the preconference, giving us background information about The Society to Improve Diagnosis. Established in 2011, one strategic priority is to engage and integrate patients and their families into diagnostic improvement efforts. In partnership with the Maxwell School of Syracuse University and the Jefferson Center, the Society was funded in 2015 by the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality (AHRQ) to look at the problem of diagnostic error from the patient’s perspective. The result was this report: Clearing the Error: Patient Participation in Reducing Diagnostic Error.

My ears perked up when Dr. Graber referred to a recently published commentary: Graber, M., Rusz, D., Jones, M., et al. (2017). The new diagnostic team. Diagnosis, 4(4), pp. 225-238. doi:10.1515/dx-2017-0022.


The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) in the recently issued report Improving Diagnosis in Health Care outlined eight major recommendations to improve the quality and safety of diagnosis. The #1 recommendation was to improve teamwork in the diagnostic process. This is a major departure from the classical approach, where the physician is solely responsible for diagnosis. In the new, patient-centric vision, the core team encompasses the patient, the physician and the associated nursing staff, with each playing an active role in the process. The expanded diagnostic team includes pathologists, radiologists, allied health professionals, medical librarians*, and others. We review the roles that each of these team members will need to assume, and suggest “first steps” that each new team member can take to achieve this new dynamic.

*Please note that I’ve bolded the words medical librarians.

At the lunch break, I mentioned to my table mates that public librarians might play a role as well. I spoke with them about the collaboration between the Public Library Association and NNLM  to prepare librarians for handling health information questions. One person was perplexed by this concept. She associated librarians with fictional books, not health and wellness. Others were more intrigued. Or more polite.

I have lots to share about this preconference. Look for future blog posts about the role of patients, families and librarians in the diagnostic process.


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This has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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