#GLTU5 Health: it’s not just clinical – review

24 Jun

Shayna Conn and Joanna Ptolomey

Late afternoon on Thursday, 21st June was, to say the least, dreich. About a dozen library and information professionals were grateful to escape from the rain into Breast Cancer Care’s offices for #GLTU5. Shayna Conn (@ShaynaC1), National Information Worker at BCC, was our host, and she and Joanna Ptolomey (@chibbie) led the discussions.

Joanna has been self-employed as a freelance librarian for 12 years, offering consultancy mainly on health matters (her background is in the NHS). She began by introducing us to the concepts of “quality assured health information” and “non-quality assured health information”. The former is high quality, evidence based information emanating from, for example, bodies such as NHS24 and government departments. The latter, despite the negative sounding name, can be just as useful but comes from the community. Both types of information are difficult to track down sometimes: quality-assured might be protected by the organisation’s need to keep its data secure, and non-quality assured could come from anywhere, such as libraries, sports centres, or just word of mouth.

The need for health information professionals is therefore obvious and Joanna illustrated her work with the example of the ALISS Project (“Access to Local Information to Support Self-management” for people with long-term health conditions) which allows people to share and curate content. Joanna has been involved in creating records for Living Well at the Library, a co-operation between Renfrewshire Libraries, Macmillan  Cancer Care and community groups who were fed up collecting the same information all the time. The site is powered by ALISS and only searches the links that the LW@TL community partners have contributed and curated, so that results are local, relevant and current.

Shayna then took over to talk about the use of information in BCC, whose role is to support people and give advice and help (NB, not counselling). Shayna deals with the non-medical enquiries. Again, some information is quality assured, e.g. journals, and some is community based e.g. details of support groups. BCCs own leaflets are quality assured with an Information Standard Certificate; their magazine is a mixture of both types. They also have telephone and email helplines and an online forum with thousands of members helping each other through peer support (though this is moderated and wrong, or misleading, information will be commented upon). The use of social media has widened their reach still further, as has their online interactive map of support groups. This is kept very up-to-date and is therefore invaluable – it was originally compiled via FOI requests to Health Boards and about 20% of their information was found to be wrong! Altogether, BCC is seen as a reputable source of information which is either from clinical staff or reviewed by clinical staff.

The above is merely a selection of the points covered by Joanna and Shayna. The session developed into a discussion between them and with audience members, many of whom made contributions based on their own experiences, either professional or personal. The post would be far too long if I summarised it all, but I think the most important point is that the health area clearly values the skills of librarians who are good at sharing information and who understand the need for plain language and different levels of content. Public libraries are well placed to help in the provision of this type of community information. A variety of access points is necessary, especially to help those whose information skills are not high or who do not have online access.

(For another, very interesting, account of the evening see Louise’s post on the MmITS Blog, @MmITScotland.)

Finally, a sub-set of the party ventured across the road to McPhabbs for drinks and food. And that’s it folks – GLTU is over till the autumn. Please let me know your ideas for events we could hold then, either by leaving a comment here or on Twitter @AnabelMarsh. Have a great summer!

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