Consumer Health Issues, Trends, and Research: Part 1.Strategic Strides toward a Better Future

Nicky Hayward‐Wright (Library and Information Service, Alzheimer's Australia NSW, North Ryde, Australia)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 1 October 2005




Hayward‐Wright, N. (2005), "Consumer Health Issues, Trends, and Research: Part 1.Strategic Strides toward a Better Future", Library Management, Vol. 26 No. 8/9, pp. 539-541.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In Part 1 of a two part series, the eight articles presented focus broadly on the user community and issues pertaining to how they seek and use health information, and through understanding these issues, how libraries can develop relevant quality physical and online consumer health collections, and develop educational programmes that will assist their users to better analyse and select appropriate health information.

The first article “Meeting the health information needs of diverse populations” sets the tone of the issue as the information presented can be applied to any library or information service, which serves a diverse population. Kristine Alpi and Barbara Bibel outline with useful resources and examples, ways to build a community and cultural profile, and identify health information needs, which are the foundation to making decisions on how to build relevant and targeted community health collections in particular, in languages other than English. Practical tips for collection development and management of a multiple languages' collection are discussed. Attention is also given to marketing and promotion of these collections, as barriers to accessing health information can be culturally based.

The next two articles further discuss the need for understanding the user community. “Where am I to go? Use of the internet for consumer health information by two vulnerable communities” by Ellen Detlefsen delves into the information seeking behaviours of the elderly and African Americans in relation to internet usage. While this article reviews mainly American literature, the issues identified can be applied in different world and minority settings. Of particular interest are the useful tips, tools and resources that would assist web designers in the development of web based consumer health information and web sites that are well designed and culturally sensitive.

Another group of consumers that requires special consideration are immigrants and refugees, which is explored in “Working with immigrant and refugee populations: issues and Hmong case study”. The authors not only look at the use of community analysis and needs assessment, but also encourage information professionals to move out of their comfort zone to understand their community better and consequently develop appropriate programmes and resources. Suggestions in this and the previous articles include interpersonal networking, cultural competency learning opportunities, forming collaborative partnerships with other community‐based organisations, health institutions and relevant government departments or agencies. Even though this article is lengthy, the topics covered and case study illustrated provide useful background information for anyone embarking on health projects for immigrants and refugees.

An issue discussed in the previous articles, language and literacy of the community as a barrier to understanding and accessing health information is further explored in “Watch your language” by Heidi Sandstrom, who gives an overview of health literacy with particular focus on the one‐day symposium held in January 2004, “Stake Your Claim to Health Literacy”. While a short article, the references given point to more detailed information about how to “foster health literacy” within one's organisation and the community. Lynda Baker and Claudia Gollop lend further weight for the need to promote health literacy in their article “Medical textbooks: can lay people read and understand them?” which also emphasise placing a person's level of literacy in the context of their situation; “contextual literacy”, and the need for collection development librarians to select medical and health material that use language which can be comprehended by users.

The last three articles in this issue look at aspect of online health information and the consumer's interaction with this information. Diane Kovacs tackles the issue of developing well designed, accessible and usable web‐based health information instruction by outlining a process model for instructional design and establishing the key elements of good web design, usability and accessibility. While this article informs the reader about the “how to”, it only skims the surface of “Why develop web‐based health information workshops for consumers?” In contrast, Javier Cresso's article “Training the health information seeker: quality issues in health information web sites” provides a well‐rounded review of the literature which examines health information online seeking behaviours, seekers' critical analysis skills and the quality of online health information. The literature supports the author's view that Librarians should take an active role in improving the evaluation and critical analysis skills of the online health information seeker and that they, as well as health care provides should be involved in ensuring that “quality” criteria of online health information is maintained.

“MedlinePlus®: The National Library of Medicine® bring quality information to health consumers” by Naomi Miller, Rebecca Tyler and Joyce Backus is an excellent choice as a conclusion to this series of articles as it illustrates the “strategic strides towards a better future” of consumer health information. The authors give the reader an insight into the development of MedlinePlus, which is based on the concepts of quality, a user‐centric focus, internal and external collaboration and continuous improvement. Indeed, MedlinePlus provides an excellent model to follow for the development of any “credible” consumer information portal.

While the articles presented do not form a comprehensive coverage of the subject, they give the reader some useful insights into the development and management of consumer health information and together, the collection of articles attempts to provide a holistic view of the various environments and approaches that can be considered by information developers, providers and intermediaries. A recommended read.

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