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Librarians and the Future of Medicine

As we head to the next century, libraries have to think about the possibility of shared space. My previous post about libraries of the 22nd century discussed how space and cost will drive libraries to share facilities and resources. The possibilities are endless but one of the more intriguing options is the burgeoning field of telemedicine.

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Technology and medicine have intertwined since the Civil War era with the use of the “telegraph to transmit casualty lists and order medical supplies”.1 Today tech is pervasive in almost all aspects of medicine; from people using mobile devices to track their physical condition, to health records being shared across services. Yet, it is still not fully integrated into our social institutions.


As umbrella terms, telemedicine and telehealth are the most used. ‘Telehealth’ covers all services related to an individual’s health, while ‘telemedicine’ is defined as doctors using technology to expand or enhance clinical services.2 A growing number of other service terms are coming into play, for instance teleradiology, telepharmacy, teleburn and telestroke.


Librarians have been providing access to electronic information for a long time so they have a strong foothold in the race to the future. In this way, it is pertinent for librarians to understand where technology and medicine intersect in order to provide timely and accurate resources.


Librarians can help the public by:

  •      Providing access to information
  •      Providing secure networks to converse with health practitioners
  •      Participating in health literacy programs

Librarians can help the practitioner by:

  •      Providing access to quality information
  •      Training practitioners on how to use Evidence-Based Medicine resources
  •      Providing secure networks to converse with patients

As libraries begin sharing space with other institutions, such as health or community centers, they may have to take on the task of providing secure, stand-alone terminals. Patrons should be able to access their health records, video conference with their practitioner, and/or access medical literature. This requires large computing capacity on secure networks.


In an ideal world this would have been figured out - for ‘anytime, anywhere access’ to health services by the 22nd century.3 For now it is a complicated and multidisciplinary conundrum. Each app, medical device, or communication software needs to be secure. They also need to be work across various apps, medical devices and communication software. Some of the barriers and limitations to the future of telehealth include: limited insurance coverage, quality of patient-practitioner relationships, credentialing and licensing issues, and the digital divide.4


These pose serious problems for the industry and in the current climate, may take until the 22nd century to resolve. There are concerns about security and privacy when collecting and storing health data, especially across borders.


The standard security protocol for patient information is anonymization or de-identifying. This means that any identifying information such as social security number or address is removed or masked when traveling between systems or devices. It must be noted that health data is large and complex so some of these techniques don’t work well because they were developed for smaller data sets. As a result important information can be lost.5


Technology and medicine impact on everyday life for consumers and practitioners. From the health data on your phone, to electronic health records, consumers should have seamless access to this information. Consumers should be able to communicate with healthcare providers by phone, video, or instant messaging. Practitioners require tools that will enable them to efficiently and effortlessly analyze patients data, access EBM, and communicate with the patients. Why should we leave it in the hands of Google, or Apple, or Amazon?


Librarians can help by providing access to secure, evidence-based tools and resources, while at the same time forming collaborations with various health stakeholders.

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Endnotes: 

Image taken from https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-blood-pressure-gauge-business-computer-263370/

[1] Zundel, K. M. (1996). Telemedicine: history, applications, and impact on librarianship. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 84(1), 71–9. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8938332

[2] Weinstein, R. S., Lopez, A. M., Joseph, B. A., Erps, K. A., Holcomb, M., Barker, G. P., & Krupinski, E. A. (2014). Telemedicine, Telehealth, and Mobile Health Applications That Work: Opportunities and Barriers. The American Journal of Medicine, 127(3), 183–187. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.AMJMED.2013.09.032

[3] Anwar, M., Joshi, J., & Tan, J. (2015). Anytime, anywhere access to secure, privacy-aware healthcare services: Issues, approaches and challenges. Health Policy and Technology, 4(4), 299–311. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.HLPT.2015.08.007

[4] Dorsey, E.R., and Topol, E.J. (2016). State of telehealth. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(2), 154-161.

[5] Anwar, M., Joshi, J., & Tan, J. (2015). Anytime, anywhere access to secure, privacy-aware healthcare services: Issues, approaches and challenges. Health Policy and Technology, 4(4), 299–311. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.HLPT.2015.08.007

 

Topics: Data Ethics Medicine Medical Tech Telemedicine