Information RX: Prescription for Information

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By Susie McIntyre, Head of Information Services, Great Falls Public Library

Originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Montana Library Focus

National studies indicate that nearly half of all American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information. Patients with limited health literacy have a higher rate of hospitalization and use of emergency services. (1) Studies have also shown that patients with inadequate literacy have less health-related knowledge, receive less preventive care, have poorer control of their chronic illnesses, and are hospitalized more frequently than other patients. (2)

In January of 2007, the Great Falls Public Library received $25,000 to help healthcare patients access quality information. Our project attempted to weave together referrals from healthcare professionals and increase access to information.

The first part of the project involved working with healthcare providers at our City-County Health Department and at the Great Falls Clinic. We gave short trainings to healthcare staff on the importance of health literacy and on the use of the Information RX (Information Prescription.) Information RX is a free program offered by the National Library of Medicine and the American College of Physicians Foundation to assist physicians in referring their patients to MedlinePlus.

We had pre-printed prescription pads printed with the URL of MedlinePlus and then we stamped the URL of the Great Falls Public Library health portal on them. The idea was to have healthcare providers dispense the prescriptions by printing key terms (such as diagnosis, medication etc.) on the prescription and referring the patients to Medlineplus and the Great Falls Public Library. It would direct patients to quality information and take very little extra work on behalf of the health care providers.

Unfortunately, we were not very successful in the implementation. We encountered resistance from some of the healthcare providers. Healthcare providers are very busy and some are resistant to change. If we were to do this project over, I would focus on a small subset of providers and really work on getting the doctors to buy-in to the prescription distribution.

Even though we did not get a large number of providers to distribute the Information RX, we did have the opportunity to provide training to a wide range of health professionals (over 260 people at 15 trainings) on the importance of health literacy and the resources of the Great Falls Public Library. The Great Falls Clinic also added links to Medlineplus to their Intranet site and reported positive comments on the use of the information.

The second part of the project involved increasing public access to quality health information. We purchased additional consumer health materials for the library including a set of 100+ DVD’s from the PBS Healthy Body, Healthy Mind series. We put public access computers at the City-County Health Department and at the Great Falls Clinic. We created a “Health Commons” as part of our website to direct users to our electronic health resources. We worked with a variety of local health organizations to provide displays and presentations on health related topics. We held a health fair at the library and we held trainings on accessing and evaluating quality health information. We publicized our project through our local news outlets.

Overall, the project was a great opportunity. We wish that we could have had better distribution of the Information RX, but we are grateful to the NNLM-PNW (National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Northwest Region) for the funding that allowed us to provide service to our community and to increase access to quality health information.


1. Parker, Ruth “Library Outreach: Overcoming Health Literacy Challenges” Journal of Med Libr Assoc. 2005 Oct;93(4 Suppl):S81-5.
2. DeWalt DA, Berkman ND, Sheridan S, Lohr KN, Pignone MP. “Literacy and health outcomes: a systematic review of the literature.” Journal Gen Intern Med 2004;19:1228-39.