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Recommending sources of info

At the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference last month, Dr. Purvi Shroff presented findings on parents’ Internet usage before taking a child to the emergency room. She noted that 11.8 percent of the 262 parents and guardians interviewed sought online medical information about the child’s problem within 24 hours prior to the ER visit. The majority of the Internet users said they were likely to visit sites recommended by a doctor.

How about your patients and clients? How often do they access health information? Do you recommend certain resources to them?

Health information is plentiful. Patients can access it through a variety of media, not just the Internet. TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines are all full of information.

But not all of that information is reliable. If patients are likely to look at resources we recommend, we need to make sure that information is the best it can be. We also need to be sure that the resources we recommend are appropriate for the audience.

Evaluating Resources

When you consider recommending particular resources, ask yourself the following questions:

·         Who is putting out the information? Does it come from an association or colleague your respect and trust? What are the credentials of those involved? Are authors listed?

·         If the information is compiled by a lay person, is it reviewed by trusted professionals before distribution?

·         Who is promoting the information? Does it come from a company selling a product? Does it come from a group that aims to change public opinion or policy?

·         How current is the information? Does it incorporate the latest research?

·         Is the information based on large, well-designed studies or is it based on anecdotal evidence or opinion?

·         How objective is the information? Does it discuss the pros and cons of the subject, if applicable?

·         What sources were used to substantiate the information? Were the sources peer-reviewed?

Audience Appropriateness

While the reliability of the materials you recommend is important, you also need to consider the patients who are receiving the information. Resources aren’t valuable if they’re not reaching their audience. Here are some ideas to think about regarding your patients:

Age / Phase in Life. Imagine two patients – we’ll call them Janet and Alicia. Janet is in her 50s, just starting to date again after ending her 25 year marriage. Alicia is 17 and thinking about becoming sexually active. Both are interested in learning more about STDs. Will you recommend the same resources?

Probably not. The tone that reaches a middle-aged woman will not always reach a 17-year-old.

But even if patients are closer in age, they might not be in the same phase of life. Kathy may be 20, in a stable relationship, and concerned about how her past experience with chlamydia might affect her pregnancy. Even though Alicia and Kathy might be closer in age, they still need resources that are tailored to them.

Literacy or Education Level. You might not know the literacy levels of your patients or clients, but during office visits, you might get a glimpse of their education levels. Be sure that the materials your recommend match what they can handle. This is not to say that materials should be dumbed down – far from that. But be sure that materials are in language they can understand. For example, a patient may be more likely to understand “enlarged prostate” than “benign prostatic hyperplasia.”

Language and Culture. Do you serve non-native English speakers? Recommending properly translated and culturally-appropriate materials can help this population.

Accessibility. Do your patients or clients have special needs? What accommodations can you make for those who are vision or hearing impaired?

Presentation. Some people prefer certain formats when receiving information. Some are visual learners; others retain more when they hear or see something. DVDs, podcasts, and online interactive tutorials are all viable options to consider.

Orientation. Your patient may not disclose sexual orientation to you. However, you should be able to recommend resources to people of all orientations.

Recommending appropriate materials makes it more likely that your patients will engage with them, understand them, and ask questions about them.

When recommending information, you might not have every kind of resource at your fingertips. You might not even be aware of new resources that are out. So it helps to have your eyes and ears open. Ask your colleagues what resources they recommend and seek feedback from patients.

Health information is always changing. Considering the information and the audience can help us recommend resources with confidence.