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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Identifying strategies to improve access to credible and relevant information for public health professionals: a qualitative study

Nancy R LaPelle1*, Roger Luckmann2, E Hatheway Simpson3 and Elaine R Martin3

Author Affiliations

1 Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, USA

2 Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, USA

3 Lamar Soutter Library, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, USA

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:89  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-89

Published: 5 April 2006

Abstract

Background

Movement towards evidence-based practices in many fields suggests that public health (PH) challenges may be better addressed if credible information about health risks and effective PH practices is readily available. However, research has shown that many PH information needs are unmet. In addition to reviewing relevant literature, this study performed a comprehensive review of existing information resources and collected data from two representative PH groups, focusing on identifying current practices, expressed information needs, and ideal systems for information access.

Methods

Nineteen individual interviews were conducted among employees of two domains in a state health department – communicable disease control and community health promotion. Subsequent focus groups gathered additional data on preferences for methods of information access and delivery as well as information format and content. Qualitative methods were used to identify themes in the interview and focus group transcripts.

Results

Informants expressed similar needs for improved information access including single portal access with a good search engine; automatic notification regarding newly available information; access to best practice information in many areas of interest that extend beyond biomedical subject matter; improved access to grey literature as well as to more systematic reviews, summaries, and full-text articles; better methods for indexing, filtering, and searching for information; and effective ways to archive information accessed. Informants expressed a preference for improving systems with which they were already familiar such as PubMed and listservs rather than introducing new systems of information organization and delivery. A hypothetical ideal model for information organization and delivery was developed based on informants' stated information needs and preferred means of delivery. Features of the model were endorsed by the subjects who reviewed it.

Conclusion

Many critical information needs of PH practitioners are not being met efficiently or at all. We propose a dual strategy of: 1) promoting incremental improvements in existing information delivery systems based on the expressed preferences of the PH users of the systems and 2) the concurrent development and rigorous evaluation of new models of information organization and delivery that draw on successful resources already operating to deliver information to clinical medical practitioners.