Western Maryland/West Virginia Rural Outreach Program: Two hundred and twenty-five librarians, health professionals, and students interested in health careers received training on accessing reliable health information on the Internet under Western Maryland/West Virginia Rural Outreach, a subcontract with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine/Southeastern Atlantic Region through its Regional Medical Library, the University of Maryland Health Sciences and Human Services Library.
Western Maryland Area Health Education Center (WMAHEC), the lead agency on WM/WV Rural Outreach, is the NLM Primary Access Library in this Appalachian region. Mary Spalding, medical librarian for WMAHEC and four area community hospitals, coordinated the project, which involved planning and presenting 1.5 hour training sessions on accessing reliable health information on the Web. Sessions highlighted evaluation criteria for health Web sites, NLM products and services, particularly PubMed/MEDLINE®, MedlinePlus®, and Toxnet®, as appropriate for each audience, and the Medical Library Association’s Consumer and Patient Health Information Section’s (CAPHIS) 100 Top Health Web Sites.
Partners on the project, which ran from January 1, 2010, until April 30, 2011, included most of the Western Maryland AHEC’s health professional caucuses—Nursing, Nurse Practitioner, Social Work, Massage Therapy, Psychology/Professional Counseling, and Occupational and Physical Therapy, as well as Mineral County Public Schools and the West Virginia Library Association. By “training the trainers”–health professionals and librarians who help patients, clients, and patrons locate health information on the Web–the Outreach project will continue to have an impact on the area’s rural residents well after its completion date. Health professionals in particular were delighted with the patient education potential of MedlinePlus®, while public librarians in 21 West Virginia counties attended training sessions that will help them respond to health-related reference questions.
West Virginia high school students interested in health careers also received training and hands-on activities designed to help them locate information for required research papers. These future health professionals now have an appreciation for the importance of unbiased, reliable health information, as opposed to an undiscerning Google search. They were taught Web site evaluation criteria and the benefits of using NLM products such as MedlinePlus®, for which that step has been eliminated by medical librarians who have already vetted the content. Young people often help their parents use computers; these 112 students will now be able to help their families locate the best health sites on the Web.
A particularly fun activity for students in a medical terminology class was the NLM video tutorial, “Understanding Medical Words.” The students enthusiastically called out root words, prefixes, and suffixes they had studied in response to questions posed on the tutorial. Their teacher was pleased, and she was further amazed at the resources available to her at MedlinePlus®. She said she would be incorporating the site into her future lessons.
After completing the project, Project Coordinator Mary Spalding recommends the following:
1) Plan carefully if introducing MedlinePlus® to high school or younger students. Recognize their level of (im)maturity and select videos beforehand; do not bring up the list and allow the kids to choose what they want to see. Having been a high school teacher, Ms. Spalding was grateful she had thoroughly reviewed the available videos ahead of time, since some of the content relates to sexual health—a topic best not tackled by a temporary presenter in schools with strict rules and parental concerns about such content. For instance, Ms. Spalding thought students might enjoy the brief Snoring video, which features excellent graphics and loud snoring sounds, found under Anatomy & Physiology videos. However, listed right under that title is the Sperm Release Pathway. Knowing what students’ reaction to that title would likely be, and hoping to avoid any behavioral or parental repercussions, she solved the problem by very quickly going to the Snoring video while demonstrating the site, without giving students time to peruse the other titles. She informed them that some of the videos related to delicate topics that they could explore later at home if they wished. The worksheet she developed for hands-on activity after the demonstration kept students occupied enough that they did not explore the video selections during class.
2) Providing training for health professionals during their off-time can be difficult. Offering continuing education credits helps bring them in, but even this is not a foolproof way to attract busy practitioners who have to give up their personal time to attend evening training sessions. Ms. Spalding recommends working with health institutions and scheduling these trainings during work times, whenever possible.
3) The coordinator met with Western Maryland AHEC caucuses ahead of time to learn their research needs. However, even in discipline-specific caucuses, interests were too broad to be fully covered in one 1.5-hour training. Giving one-on-one or very small group trainings is more valuable to health professionals, as she found when only one nurse practitioner showed up for that training session. She was able to focus on the nurse practitioner’s need for medical articles to help her prepare for a meeting the next day. The NP was working on a paper, and a PubMed search, mediated by the coordinator and incorporating both MeSH terms and keywords, provided the NP with a list of articles for her review of the literature while teaching her the principles she’d need for her own future searches. Similarly, the smaller groups left with more readily usable information than did the larger ones.
Western Maryland AHEC is grateful for the opportunity to offer these trainings in this medically under-served rural area. This project was 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 Contract No. NO1-LM-6-3502 with the University of Maryland Baltimore.