The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades

And that future is all about you!

Dark sunglasses perch in the sand, blue water visible just beyond

We’re halfway through the strategic planning process at NLM, with the second of four panels convening last week to explore the future of the public’s health.

Like the other topical panels, invited experts from around the US joined us to share their unique and important perspectives. I am grateful for the opportunity to glimpse the visions of these great leaders, because each meeting gives me new insights and inspires new directions, new possibilities, for the National Library of Medicine.

The topic of public health covered by the panel includes personal health management, clinical care services, and community and public health. We did not separate these in the discussion because people in health or illness pass through each of these care environments as they traverse the trajectory from health to illness and back again.

As our experts shared their visions of what might happen in or across their various sectors over the next 10 years, the message was strong: The future of health lies in the hands of the people who will experience those health journeys. The public’s health, whether experienced in a public health clinic, a hospital bed, or a patient’s home, is going to be increasingly driven by the vision, skill, preferences, and choices of the person, not the professional!

It became immediately clear to me that the library designed to support the intensive care unit in 1995 will be ill-equipped to support a community-situated, patient-centric health care environment in the next decade.

The library that supports acute care rests on several premises:

  • Biological knowledge dominates.
  • Point-of-care decision making is the rule.
  • Records became archives of the care experience.

The future of health lies in the hands of the people who will experience those health journeys.

With a person-driven model, the information needed for care is simultaneously more broad—encompassing social, behavioral, and environmental factors—and more precise—focused on individuals, not the statistical average. We must also reconsider how that information is delivered, so it aligns with the individual’s values regarding heath and health care and is relevant to his or her life experiences and understanding of illness.

So what needs to happen to NLM to make it a library that accelerates personal health, person-centered care, and public health?

We need to collect new kinds of information, such as studies that help us characterize health and illness in terms of the patient. We need to build new filters and integrate special search terms so the process of locating that information aligns with how people experience and understand their own health issues. Finally, we must present that material in a way that is both actionable and comprehensible by the layperson, which might call for translation services or plain language interpretations.

As we design NLM’s future, please let us know what you know. How will care practices and knowledge development in your domain change over the next five years? And how can NLM help you meet those challenges?

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

4 thoughts on “The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades”

  1. I just shared with a friend and former MLA president, “I’ve gotten so I can tell which of the daily NLM Office of Communications message posts are by NLM director Patti Brennan just by their catchy titles. But the posts more than just catchy titles.” They are well written and helping us explore what our future and that of NLM will be.

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  2. Dr. Brennan, I am so incredibly excited by your post regarding the bright future. I’ve spent over 30 years working with patients and consumers in a consumer health library helping them find meaningful information to understand, cope with and manage their illness or that of a loved one. The consumer health library that I managed was a member of the leading patient-centered care organization, Planetree, Inc. I am now working under an NN/LM subaward titled, Knowledge is Health: Interprofessional Partnerships to Promote Health Literacy. Given my long history helping people along their health and wellness journey, I cannot say strongly enough that I believe NLM can and should continue to take the lead in promoting plain language patient education/self-care resources across multiple media and platforms. To be perfectly honest, the Easy-to-Read section of MedlinePlus is not really easy to read – many, if not most, resources there are text-heavy with no illustrations. I apologize for calling that out in this message, but, truly, I’ve been frustrated by that for years. In my current role, I am working with a FQHC’s diabetes nurse educator to rework the materials shared with newly diagnosed diabetic patients whose first language is not English and we’re finding a picture truly can be worth a 1,000 words! As health information professionals, we often have this bar of shooting for a 5th or 6th grade reading level to meet the needs of low-literate individuals, but I am finding two things – we don’t meet that standard consistently and we have a large population of adults for whom this bar is too high.
    I would also like to see NLM work with EHR vendors to connect newly developed NLM plain language patient resources to their products – so clinicians can share personalized, understandable information with their patients at the point of care. Or maybe the clinician sends an electronic request via the EHR to a medical librarian requesting a personalized packet of information for each patient that is specifically tailored to his/her needs and is culturally and linguistically appropriate. When all is said and done, I believe in my heart-of-hearts librarians have a vital role to play in meeting patients and their loved ones’ health and medical information needs, both now and in the bright future you envision. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you sincerely for your feedback, Michele. You and other members of the health sciences library community are critical partners with us as we work to ensure NLM continues to serve the public, along with clinicians and researchers.

      You might want to check out NLM’s HealthReach, which provides multilingual and multicultural public health information resources for those working with or providing care to individuals with limited English proficiency. The health education materials in HealthReach are available in multiple languages with lots of images.

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