Thursday, October 19, 2006

More than just the evidence

When we talk about clinical librarianship and the role of the librarian in selecting the "best" articles, in terms of both methodological rigor and relevance to a given clinical context, it's not uncommon that we also think about liability concerns - when the librarian takes a more involved and active role in synthesizing the medical literature for a clinical question, fulfilling an "evidence consultant" role for clinicians, what is his or her potential liability for this information selection process?

Some libraries have developed disclaimers that accompany their literature searches, bibliographies, etc, attempting to address this issue - perhaps most commonly characterizing the literature search process (selection decisions, database choices, related concepts of possible interest) and containing a phrase to the effect of "...more information available on request."

When I saw the headline for this Science Blog posting, I realized that it sums up my feelings about such liability concerns - "Evidence informs decisions but can't make them." Given our training as experts in searching the literature and identify key items related to a given topic/question, we provide information to support decision making -- the clinician takes the articles, studies, reports, reviews etc, incorporates that data with his or her clinical expertise and the wishes of the patient, and makes a decision about the best course of action for that patient. I don't feel that I provide answers to clinical questions, but tools to aid clinicians with arriving at their own answers for clinical challenges.

The Medical Library Association's Information Specialist in Context Task Force report and related materials address issues of liability and expert roles for librarians (full-text of the final report of the task force and the consulting team from Vanderbilt is also available to MLA members via the above page).

Your thoughts?

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