MLA News Selected Articles
Submitted by Felicia A. Smith, Health Learning Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, IL
Consumer health information centers in hospitals serve an important function. Hospitals are prime locations to optimize patient and family education, as well as provide instantaneous access to and for clinicians.
Health information is abundant, especially on the Internet. Information centers evaluate data for quality assurance. These centers empower consumers with information, enabling them to make informed decisions. Health information dissemination must be a concerted effort by all of the disciplines involved in the continuum
of care . Research indicates that effective patient education is instrumental
in decreasing the length of hospital stays .
There is a debate about the practical and ethical dilemmas concerning distribution of consumer health information. Should libraries facilitate access to professional literature that most consumers are not properly equipped to comprehend and use effectively? Or should they guide consumers away from this problematic, but accurate professional literature towards sources designed for the lay public? Some may prefer not to contribute to the "arrested development" of some consumers who cannot pose an accurate request for information, because they are not well versed in the terminology and consequently are unable to properly articulate their requests. Information centers use resources appropriate for the consumers' comprehension levels and spend time ascertaining exactly what the consumers' needs are.
The process begins with basic definitions of controlled vocabularies. Few lay people can define meta-anlaysis, review articles, double-blind, or Medical Subject Headings (MeSH). When consumers have a grasp of the concepts, they are empowered to continue searching independently. There has been a 200% increase in consumer use of MEDLINE since the National Library of Medicine made it available for the public through PubMed. A key contributor to the consumers' independence is proper disclosure about the information-gathering process. Pursuant to consumers' research, they can make more educated inquiries and take an active, participatory role in their health care.
1. Gaynor S, Patyk M. Putting the pieces in place: the patient education puzzle. J Nurs Care Qual 1998 Feb;12(3):64_8.
2. Patyk M, Gaynor S, Verdin J. Patient education resource assessment: project management. J Nurs Care Qual 2000 Jan;14(2):14_20.
Edited by Melissa L. Just
Submitted by Candice Benjes, Norris Medical Library, University of Southern California_Los Angeles
Building a Website is no small accomplishment, but building a usable Website is even more impressive. Some Web developers may label a site "usable" if its links are working and the server it resides on is stable. People trying to use the site may have different, more stringent criteria. The field of usability concentrates on the latter viewpoint. Can people find what they are looking for without getting a headache? Do they understand the site well enough to complete their task? And, if so, is the experience positive enough to give them a favorable impression of the site? Or do they vow never to return?
Many different components of Web design and construction affect the usability of the site. A page heavy with graphics may take a long time to download, and potential users may become impatient. According to Jakob Nielsen of useit.com, the average Web user will only wait ten seconds before giving up and moving on to a new page. Ten seconds is not very long in modem-time. Because some sites are designed for a specific release of a specific browser (Internet Explorer 5.0, for example), users trying to download pages with America Online (AOL) or Netscape, or even an earlier version of Internet Explorer, can have difficulties.
Other times the problem lies with the architecture of the site. A common mistake is designing a site along organizational chart lines. For example, a library site may link interlibrary loan request forms from a heading called Access Services on the home page. Although library staff may know that this department handles interlibrary loans, they should not expect users to know it.
Assuming anything about Web users does not conform to usability standards. Instead, Web managers are encouraged to gather user feedback when planning, building, and revising Websites. Focus groups can be a good start, but librarians involved in Web development should also consider techniques such as usability tests, where users are observed trying to find information on a Website. Such activities can provide insight into users' minds and inspire new ways of thinking about the Web. Turn to page 17 for a list of usability Websites.
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