Drowning in the Sargasso Sea of Health Information: Help Is on the Way

In his July 2009 editorial, Dr. Robert C. Like, MD, MS, wrote about the importance of creating "communities of practice" and the increasing role of the Web and collaboration in facilitating the development of learning networks. Here, he continues this discussion by sharing some perspectives from the field of library science about the impact of the Internet on clinical practice and public health.

In my July 2009 editorial, I wrote about the importance of our creating “communities of practice” and the increasing role of the Web and collaboration in facilitating the development of learning networks. I would like to continue this discussion by sharing some perspectives from the field of library science about the impact of the Internet on clinical practice and public health.

British Medical Journal


Dean Giustini, a librarian at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has written two eloquent editorials in the . In “How Web 2.0 Is Changing Medicine," Professor Giustini discusses the impact of “social software” (eg, blogs, information-pushing devices, website tagging/organizing tools, and multimedia tools) on the discovery and sharing of knowledge, and their use in education and healthcare. In “Web 3.0 and Medicine," he describes how “the Semantic Web” may facilitate our (rather than just searching for) information that is personalized, timely, and relevant both in basic science research and clinical practice.

How does the above relate to our work in the area of multicultural and minority healthcare? What role can medical librarians and other HIT experts play in helping us to eliminate disparities and provide more culturally competent patient-centered care?

The National Library of Medicine’s Strategic Plan for Addressing Health Disparities 2004-2008 has focused on improving access to health-related information by “health professionals, patients, families, community-based organizations, and the general public … with special emphasis on rural, minority, and other underserved populations.” Strategies being employed include:

  • “Improving the information infrastructure and communications capabilities of minority communities.
  • Employing communication methods that are racially and culturally sensitive and appropriate.
  • Increasing the scope of information products and services to include cultural, psychological, behavioral, social, gender-based, and environmental influences.
  • Building partnerships with community-based and professional organizations.
  • Strengthening the capacity of minority communities “

Selected examples can be found of the many federal, public, and private sector organizations compiling resources relating to health disparities and cultural competency:

National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality — Minority Health

Centers for Disease Control - Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Office of Minority Health

Health Resources and Services Administration

Medical Library Association — Cultural Competency Resources

National Network of Libraries of Medicine — Minority Health Concerns: Cultural Competency Resources



The Provider’s Guide to Quality and Culture

Medline Plus — Health Disparities

Medscape Health Diversity Resource Center

Medpage Today: Cultural Competence

Thanks to the growth of the Internet and various search engines, the challenge for the busy practitioner is less about seeking out information, but instead about how to navigate this vast sea of knowledge without getting lost, running aground, or drowning. In particular, how can appropriate, credible, and useful information be found that will help inform clinical practice, improve the quality and safety of care provided, and result in better health outcomes for our increasingly diverse patient populations?


Regular readers of will be familiar with the publication’s different departments (eg, editorials, cover/feature articles, interviews, the Check Up, Online CME, eAbstracts, Clinical Trials, Medical Podcasts, Medical Websites, the Educated Patient®). Highly respected experts provide updates about the latest developments in the field of racial and ethnic disparities, cross-cultural healthcare, and related topics in minority and multicultural health. Numerous links to websites and online clinical, educational, and research resources are published.


While a great deal of information is now currently available, I wonder if it could be better organized and made easier to find. In particular, the following questions come to mind: Could we classify, index, and archive past, present, and future content in a more user-friendly fashion? Would it be helpful to tag or cluster topics by medical specialty; illness/disease, clinical care issue, population group; age/stage of life cycle; type of health care organization or setting, geographic location, etc? Would this facilitate easier access to sharing and utilization of information in our "communities of practice."




I invite readers to share their ideas and suggestions relating to these questions so that we can continue to improve . As Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams have written in their wonderful book, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, people are increasingly becoming rather than consumers in our interconnected and digital world. Help us to so that we are better able to meet your needs, as well as help transform our healthcare delivery system to better serve patients, families, and communities. Thanks for your continued interest and support!