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Countway Library of Medicine Update: New Initiatives and New Collaborations

by David L. Osterbur, Interim Director of Countway Library and Director of Public and Access Services ||
Third in a series


New services. Reference librarians at Countway do not staff a reference desk. Instead we make consultation appointments with library users seeking our services for aid with finding materials, database searching, systematic reviews, and bioinformatics questions. Many of these consults are instigated in the classes we teach—approximately 50 per semester—by attendees recognizing our expertise and seeking additional help with their work.

Helping users with systematic reviews has become a large part of a medical reference librarian’s role. Systematic reviews are the top of the pyramid for evidence-based medicine, and our input helps make sure that Harvard Medical School is making a large contribution to that evidence. The assistance that we give for this work is often recognized by an acknowledgement in the subsequently published journal literature or, for more significant contributions, by co-authorship of the article.

New collaborations. In 2014, President Obama signed a bill called the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (HR 4302). One of the consequences of this bill is that imaging service providers (radiology departments) will not be authorized to accept payment from Medicare for imaging services that do not meet appropriate use criteria. Among the considerations for appropriate use is that the uses of imaging in the circumstances "are scientifically valid and evidence-based." We have begun a collaborative project with the Brigham and Women's Hospital Center for Evidence-Based Imaging along with physicians from several of the Harvard hospitals to evaluate guidelines for radiological imaging to determine the level of evidence that is cited for the imaging procedures recommended in the guideline. We will make this resource openly available for anyone to use.

This will accomplish a number of important objectives:

  • It will lower the cost of medicine by helping to prevent unnecessary procedures.
  • It will provide a means of seeing where evidence is missing and automatically suggest areas where clinical studies are needed to fill the gaps.
  • It offers a new and highly appropriate role for librarians in direct collaboration with physicians.
  • It will reduce the amount of bias that is currently seen in many clinical guidelines.

The projects and innovations that we have presented in this series of articles are only a portion of what the Countway Library staff is doing to improve its outreach and usefulness to library users. It is a challenging, exciting and friendly place to work. Feel free to stop by and visit us or email us to ask any questions you may have about what we have presented here.

Article written by David L. Osterbur.
Article published September 29, 2015.