Finding and making sense out of medical information has a lot of pitfalls–from filtering out noise on Internet bulletin boards to finding reliable information that’s free and available to understanding how much about medicine is really unknown and uncertain, especially how it applies to your specific situation. It takes a great deal of knowledge even to know what kind of questions to ask your doctor. And who’s got the time to do all this research?
This is an interesting question, and of course one that medical librarians deal with all the time. How do we go about helping consumers find quality medical information on the web? And how much should we help them interpret it? MLA has been working on this first question quite a bit (I sadly missed the Health Literacy sessions at MLA this year, but I bet this was discussed). There are initiatives to increase participation of public librarians in consumer health activities, the Medspeak brochures, and of course the Google Co-op project. As for the second question, when I was trained, interpreting medical lingo for patients was strictly verboten. Now, with the huge surge of consumer-determined health care, consumers searching for health information on their own, and health information prescriptions, I’ve seen a lot of commentary suggesting that librarians must help consumers interpret health information–that not to do so is wrong and the “old” model of librarianship. Now, I am generally of the opinion that the reference librarian who trained me is infallible, and thus that interpreting medical information for consumers is a very bad idea (a legal quagmire, surely), but I’d be interested to hear what others think.
As for the Google Co-op project, I’ve made my opinions known on that in the past (why are we giving Google, a massive wealthy company, our time for free, exactly?), and recent Google classes have shown me that even health care professionals have no clue what the labeling/refinements mean or do. Even Google has admitted that the Co-op project is not a good solution. Adam Bosworth noted,
It seems that we at Google may not have done a great job of making this clear enough. Unfortunately, many of you either don’t notice these words when you’re searching about health questions at Google or have no idea what they mean. Clearly, we can do better at making this kind of labeling noticeable and your ideas on how we could make it clear to you that a site is medically reliable or trustworthy would be greatly appreciated as we think this through.
I’ll agree with him that no one notices this stuff. And, I will again state publicly that Google Co-op does not seem like the best product to expend MLA efforts on. It’s just so “beta”–in a bad way. :) Google has long been looking at health as a critical aspect of search and their product line-up. Not yet released, though something that has been on the radar for a long time, is a personal health record system (sometimes called Scrapbook). Now, that would be interesting to see. There are a lot of posts, speeches, and presentations on the topic of Google and consumer health by Googlers–all of which are important reads for medical librarians.
As an aside, my library’s copy of How Doctors Think has been off the shelf constantly since we received it a month or so ago. And, the medical school ordered a copy for each member of its curriculum committee.