hired a PR firm; we’d never had one before and we were looking around for ideas for giving back to the community. So, we
came up with the ‘Deciphering Medspeak’ idea.”
The brochure was a hit, not only with librarians, but also
with doctors and patients. It was so popular that in 2002 — as
the association began exploring and embracing its larger health
information literacy initiative — MLA released a Spanish translation. It followed that in 2006 and 2007 with a series of six
disease-specific “Medspeak” brochures — on HIV/AIDS, stroke,
heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes and eye disease —
designed to help patients navigate their illnesses with easy-to-understand definitions and resources.
“We’ve now expanded the brochures further,” Funk says.
“We realized that they were written basically between a 7th
and a 12th grade reading level, and that’s too high. So, we’ve
gone back and we’re now translating them into plain language;
now they’ll be at about a 5th or 6th grade reading level.”
Distributed for free via MLA’s Web site and meetings, and
sold in bulk at cost to medical libraries, public libraries, hospitals and doctor’s offices, MLA’s “Medspeak” brochures have
been so well received that they even appeared as props on a
recent episode of Fox’s medical drama House.
“The brochures have been extremely effective,” Funk says.
“An association works on behalf of its membership, and what
we did to get our membership better known was actually to
start working on behalf of the consumer as well. That was a
break for us.”
Spreading the Word
According to Ryan, that break was a good one, as it enabled
MLA members to raise their own profile in pursuit of successful health literacy outreach. Because if people don’t know that
medical libraries exist — and most don’t, she says — they won’t
solicit them for information and assistance.
“Just getting people’s attention is a major roadblock,” Ryan
says. “We have tried with different initiatives to help our members find ways to promote their services to health care providers
as well as to the public, but health professionals don’t always
think to refer their patients to a library.”
In an effort to change that, past MLA President Jean Shipman initiated in 2006 the MLA Health Information Literacy
Research Project, made possible through a $250,000 contract
from the National Library of Medicine in Washington, D.C.
“We wanted to help hospital librarians understand how to
train health care providers about the importance of health information literacy,” says Shipman, who is director of the Spencer
S. Eccles Health Sciences Library at the University of Utah.
In April 2006, Shipman and Funk submitted to the
National Library of Medicine an unsolicited grant application
proposing the development of a health information literacy curriculum that would enable medical librarians to educate health
care providers about health literacy issues. The application
was approved and MLA received funding in September 2006
for a two-year pilot project through which to develop and test
their proposed curriculum.
“What we did first was a survey to get a baseline understanding of the perceived value of consumer health and health
literacy in hospital settings by health care administrators and
providers,” Shipman says. “Then we took that survey and created a basic module for hospital librarians to use to train
health care providers.”
Once the training module was developed — approximately
an hour long, it includes basic information about health information literacy and its impact, as well as training resources,
tools and scripts — MLA needed libraries to test it.
“We selected nine pilot sites, eight in the United States and
one in Canada,” Shipman says, “and required them to train at
least 50 health care providers in their institution.”
Librarians from MLA’s pilot sites convened in Indianapolis
in April 2008 for a special two-day training session, when they
learned the parameters of the project and discussed strategies
for executing it. Among them was medical librarian Andrea
Harrow from Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, who was
eager to open her library for the first time to patients and families. “The project came along at just the time that I was
thinking, ‘We really need to open up the library to consumers,’”
Although MLA’s pilot libraries targeted a variety of health
care providers, Harrow found an especially eager audience
among nurses, who at her hospital needed resources for communicating with a large population of Korean patients. “Nurses
are kind of hungry for tools,” Harrow says. “So, I’ve been going
around the hospital to different nursing stations and seeing if
they would be interested in resources and materials.”
Upon completing the MLA Health Information Literacy
Research Project pilot in September 2008, pilot libraries had
trained more than 900 health care providers in health information literacy issues, according to Shipman. “We’ve done follow-up surveys with those providers to see if they’ve made changes
in their practice,” she says. “Fifty-six percent ‘strongly agreed’
that the training session increased their knowledge of health lit-