Skip navigation

NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Aligning Health Information with Patient Needs: 12/16/2013

Picture of Dr. Lindberg

Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Here is what's new this week in MedlinePlus.listen

The health information that helps Americans make medical decisions often is not well-targeted to consumers and needs to be better aligned with patient needs, suggests an interesting perspective recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The perspective’s two authors note when Americans seek health information (and we quote): ‘consumers want clear and concise information that they can understand on factors such as out-of-pocket costs, the effectiveness of a procedure or treatment, and applicability to their personal condition and social situation’ (end of quote).

The authors, who are Harvard University faculty members, note most health consumers also want to know the extent of their illness as well as (and we quote)’ the resulting social or economic consequences for a patient’s family’ (end of quote).

However, the authors explain the available information about health care quality often compares clinical outcomes that are more relevant to medical center managers and health insurers than patients. For example, the authors note there is widely available data for health consumers in New York and Pennsylvania that compares heart surgery patient outcomes among statewide hospitals. Yet the authors write (and we quote), ‘this information does little to help patients decide whether they want or need surgery in the first place’ (end of quote).

As a supplement to current clinical outcome measures that provide metrics such as a patient’s odds of surviving an operation, the authors suggest it would be helpful to provide consumers with information such as the estimated time to return to work following surgery as well as the projected out-of-pocket insurance and related expenses.  

The authors explain more consumer-targeted health information might yield additional benefits, such as new measures to better identify how personal health decisions impact medical care utilization trends. For example, the authors note the decline in national health spending between 2010-2012 (and a recent 17 percent drop in the number of physician visits by privately insured patients) often is explained by health economists as a byproduct of the 2008 U.S. recession.

However, the authors suggest if consumer needs and everyday decisions were better assessed by health statisticians they might find these declines were the result of Americans not seeking care because of increases in private insurance rates. The authors explain the prevalence of higher deductions in health plans and increased co-payment rates grew significantly between 2006-2012. As a result, the authors find the reduction in health care spending may reflect decisions by more patients to seek less care to avoid higher personal bills.

The authors conclude consumer health information should be better aligned with public concerns and preferences — and the collection of data about consumers needs to reflect more patient, caregiver, and family health care decision points.

As consumer health data hopefully are improved, MedlinePlus.gov’s evaluating health information health topic page can guide you to websites with practical and reliable medical information.

A website that helps you find reliable health information on the Internet (from the American Academy of Family Physicians) is available in ‘start here’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s evaluating health information health topic page. MedlinePlus.gov provides its own guide to healthy web surfing within the same section.

The National Library of Medicine’s guide to finding health information also is within the ‘related issues’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s evaluating health information health topic page.

MedlinePlus.gov’s evaluating health information health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. You can sign up to receive updates about evaluating medical information as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.

To find MedlinePlus.gov’s evaluating health information health topic page, type ‘evaluating health information’ in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov’s home page. Then, click on ‘evaluating health information (National Library of Medicine).’

MedlinePlus.gov also contains health topic pages on understanding medical information, taking with your doctor, and health literacy.

Before I go, this reminder… MedlinePlus.gov is authoritative. It's free. We do not accept advertising …and is written to help you.

To find MedlinePlus.gov, just type in 'MedlinePlus.gov' in any web browser, such as Firefox, Safari, Netscape, Chrome or Explorer. To find Mobile MedlinePlus.gov, just type 'Mobile MedlinePlus' in the same web browsers.

We encourage you to use MedlinePlus and please recommend it to your friends. MedlinePlus is available in English and Spanish. Some medical information is available in 43 other languages.

Your comments about this or any of our podcasts are always welcome. We welcome suggestions about future topics too!

Please email Dr. Lindberg anytime at: NLMDirector@nlm.nih.gov

That's NLMDirector (one word) @nlm.nih.gov

A written transcript of recent podcasts is available by typing 'Director's comments' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page.

The National Library of Medicine is one of 27 institutes and centers within the National Institutes of Health. The National Institutes of Health is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A disclaimer — the information presented in this program should not replace the medical advice of your physician. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease without first consulting with your physician or other health care provider.

We wish you and yours a very pleasant Thanksgiving.

It was nice to be with you. I look forward to meeting you here next week.