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Connecting With Rural Healthcare Providers: What Information Do They Need & How Do They Search for It?

Presentation made at Medical Library Association Annual Meeting on May 6, 2019


Marcia Francis, MA, MEd, AHIP,

Dawn Hackman, MS, AHIP,

Erika Johnson, MLIS,

Michael Skinner, MLS, MTh, BSN, RN,

Kelly Thormodson, MLIS,


Objective: Outreach librarians at a small academic health sciences library conducted a mixed methods, multiphase information needs assessment of unaffiliated healthcare providers within a predominantly rural state. The assessment’s purpose was to determine the information-seeking behaviors, unmet information needs, and training preferences of the target population to inform future outreach planning.
Methods: Outreach librarians conducted a preliminary literature review that found recent, relevant studies describing the health information needs of unaffiliated rural healthcare providers were lacking. Librarians then designed a descriptive survey to assess information-seeking behaviors and unmet information needs of the target population. State healthcare organizations were recruited to encourage their members to complete the survey. In Phase II, librarians interviewed Phase I volunteers and other health professionals individually to collect additional and more in-depth data, including training preferences. Unmet information needs identified in Phases I and II were mapped to freely accessible online information tools in anticipation of future trainings. Librarians used qualitative data analysis software to glean additional insight into unmet information needs of the target population during Phase III of this project. All research activities were approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board.
Results: A total of 282 health professionals working in a variety of roles and settings responded to the Phase I survey distributed in 2017. Respondents reported seeking patient care/management information most often with various resources consulted, journals and practice information being considered most useful. In Phase II, four librarians interviewed a total of 21 individuals to further explore information-seeking behavior, perceived barriers, and utilization of information resources. Phase II and III qualitative data analysis indicated interviewees primarily rely upon online information resources and colleagues with time and money most frequently discussed as barriers to information-seeking.
Conclusions:  Many unaffiliated health professionals have unmet information needs and are unaware freely available, quality information resources are available to meet some of those needs. These professionals also want access to subscription-based information products and are unfamiliar with product licensing and budget restrictions libraries face. Selected health professionals recognize the value of library resources and librarians’ expertise in efficiently locating relevant information to meet their needs. With the wealth of online resources available, some believe currently available information is sufficient to meet their information needs.


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