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Creating a Library to Serve Patients and Their Partners

The UCSF Patient Health Library

Gail Sorrough, University of California San Francisco | Jan 01, 2010

The UCSF Patient Health Library is a new library created in response to the demand from patients and their friends, family members and partners at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion who wanted access to medical information.

For years, patients had been visiting the medical staff library, seeking medical information and asking for help exploring the information jungle and finding trusted content. To meet the demand, a section of shelving was segregated in the reference room for lay health and medical texts and an Internet-accessible catalog for these texts was created. This situation sufficed for a while, but eventually it became evident that it was really not working and, in fact, it had given rise to problems that needed resolution.

The obvious problem was crowding. Priority use of the computers in themedical library was for faculty and staff, and often there were not enough computers to accommodate patients. Another issue was staffing. Providing reference support to patients, their family members and their partners was consuming too much staff time; an additional medical librarian dedicated to patients was required. And lastly was HIPAA compliance. Healthcare professionals using the library frequently discussed patients; this scenario created a potential conflict with HIPAA requirements for patient confidentiality. “HIPAA” stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which set forth strict guidelines regarding protection of patient confidentiality in the US.

Finding funding and space

The medical staff library is a nonrevenue-producing department within the UCSF Medical Center. So, asking in the current economic climate for more space (a premium at the medical center), funding for a remodel project and more budget for increased labor and nonlabor costs was not an option.

Fortunately for the library, its founders had the foresight to establish a fund for the library when Mount Zion was still a Jewish hospital, before it was merged with UCSF Medical Center. In the 20 years since the merger, the fund has continued to receive donations and has been carefully managed by a private, nonprofit agency. The fund covered the cost of the remodeling. In addition, a generous gift from a private donor provided support for a new part-time medical librarian.

The funding was resolved, but the space issue remained. No one was going to relinquish space, so we decided that the opportunity to create a new patient health library should also be an opportunity to enhance and evolve the medical staff library. The basic concept for both libraries was not based on how much was owned, but on how much access to resources was available.We realized that if we eliminated a good portion of the medical staff library’s print collection, we would have space. We formalized and submitted our plan to the Mount Zion administrative director. The plan received approval, and the project went forward.

Shrinking the collection

The first thing to do was shrink the collection. Because we are affiliated with a large university library, and we have access to significant online resources, it was easy to justify elimination of many of the medical staff library’s books and journals.

With a good number of books and journals gone, we were left with a large, empty room with an entrance off the main hospital hallway — perfect for easy access as a patient health library. At this point, the institution’s design and construction department was engaged to develop the official project, provide a cost estimate and timeline, and manage the contractor and vendors.

The project went forward over the summer of 2009, with only minor delays and minimal disruption to patrons. The medical staff library was reorganized for improved access to computers. The patient health library was created with a focus on providing computer access and a comfortable place to read. A new part-time (50%) medical librarian was hired to staff the patient library; current staff would accommodate the other 50% of the open hours.

Getting the word out

Our marketing activities are diverse, ongoing and critical to the success of the library. Importantly, we’ve formed a virtual ad hoc committee of nurse managers to allow nurses to provide input about patient care information needs and to connect the library to those who are directly involved with patients and their partners. Also, we’ve created a website for our new patient health library.

Getting trusted content into patients’ hands

Already, the new patient health library is attracting a steady stream of clients who want access to the latest medical findings from reputable providers and who want the assistance of a professional medical librarian with the expertise to find the appropriate resources. We’re confident that the new library will continue to be a busy place, appreciated by our clients, and a model of how a library contributes to the UCSF Medical Center’s mission of Caring, Healing, Teaching and Discovering.