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Sutter Medical Center (Sacramento) Health Information Ambassador Program

Posted by on June 4th, 2014 Posted in: Advocacy, Consumer Health, Funding, MedlinePlus, Outreach, Technology

by Theresa Johnson, MLIS
Medical Librarian
Sutter Resource Library
Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento
Sacramento, CA

In April 2013, the Sutter Resource Library received outreach funding support from NN/LM PSR, to enhance our pilot project to “bring the library to the patient.” This pilot was based on the Health Information Ambassador Program implemented at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego by Jackie Davis, MLIS, (MLA News June/July 2012). The program is a partnership between the medical library and the volunteer services department at the hospital. Jackie was very generous in sharing her knowledge and experience, as well as providing samples of a “Health Information Request” form and cover letter that we could customize. We used the same name for our pilot program, which became library HIA, for short. We are a consumer health library, open to the community of Sacramento since 1985, and supported by philanthropic donations. Patrons can use the library for free and borrow up to three items for two weeks. Library usage has been in decline and I saw this program as an opportunity to promote awareness of our services to a broader segment of the community, as well as serve the immediate health information needs of the patients and families at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento.

Person holding an iPad with a display of the MedlinePlus home page

The pilot was launched in November 2012 with one volunteer visiting one unit, Neurology, one day per week. The Volunteer Coordinator was key in suggesting which unit was best to start with and recommending us to the unit manager. It was on that unit that we learned, made mistakes, and honed our skills. We now cover 5 units (Orthopedics, Telemetry, Med/Surg, ICU and Neurology) with 12 volunteers. The volunteers are new RN graduates. Currently there are many RNs seeking employment and eager for the opportunity to be involved on a hospital unit and helping patients. The volunteer agrees to work one four-hour shift per week. A volunteer agrees to fulfill 100 hours which translates to 25 weeks or 6 months’ time. The downside to using RN graduates has been a rapid turnover, many leaving after only three months. We are now looking at RN students in hopes they will be with us longer. In 2013 the library HIAs visited over 1200 patients and filled over 600 information requests.

The pilot evolved as it grew into a program. The initial vision was to promote the library and its services, while delivering health information from reliable consumer health resources, via hand-delivery, mail, or email. The three new iPads we received from our Express Outreach Award are one of the tools we are using to do that. As library HIAs visit patient rooms, a patient may decline our service because they have already done research on the Internet. The HIA can suggest reliable health sites such as MedlinePlus and use the iPad to demonstrate the site. Use of the iPad allows the HIA to be able to forward a link from that site to the patient’s own email.

Employing teamwork and collaboration, the library HIA role has expanded. We now partner with other departments, such as Pharmacy, to enhance the patient experience. If a patient has a question about their medication(s), the HIA request is forwarded from the library to the pharmacist, who arranges to have a pharmacist/intern visit the patient. Another opportunity for collaboration arose with the closed-circuit TV, which was underutilized. Accessing the large amount of relevant information already available in the patient’s room via the CCTV system requires viewing a five-minute tutorial and a detailed handout. The library HIA has the time to spend with each patient to not only instruct them on how to operate the CCTV, they can also suggest video titles relevant to the patient’s medical condition. The patient’s initial negative attitude often changes when the volunteer says “This is a free service,” so we have learned to deliver that message at the beginning of the visit. We get very positive responses from not only patients and families, but also the volunteer HIAs. They are very impressed with our program too, recognizing its uniqueness and value for our patients.

Two patient stories stand out as being particularly memorable. In one case, a patient in the hospital for an orthopedic procedure also had COPD and asked for information about that. Upon receivingd the information, the patient said “I was diagnosed with this 10 years ago, but now I want to learn about it.” This shows that information has a different dynamic when people ask for it. In another instance, a patient who had gone home called the next day to express appreciation for the information received from the library. The patient had looked up information on the Internet, but what we gave her from the library was very different. The patient will be taking the library information to the first doctor visit after having bowel resection. The patient was also interested in accessing the library in the future, and will write to the hospital administrators about this positive experience after more fully recovering from the surgical procedure!

Image of the author ABOUT Alan Carr
Alan Carr is the Associate Director, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region, based at UCLA.

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This project is funded by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Cooperative Agreement Number UG4LM012341 with the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library.

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