Canadian Healthcare Practitioners’ Access to Evidence Based Information is Inequitable

Maria Melssen

Abstract


Objective – To determine what services and resources are available to health professionals through national Canadian and Alberta based health professional associations and licensing colleges and if those resources and services are being used. Also, to assess the associations’ perceptions of what resources and services Canadian health professionals actually need and if those needs are being met, membership satisfaction with the resources and services provided, and challenges the associations have with providing resources and services.

Design – Structured telephone interview.

Setting – Health professional associations and licensing colleges in Canada.

Subjects – 23 health professional associations: 9 Alberta-based associations and 14 national-level professional associations and licensing colleges.

Methods – A librarian, communications officer, or another individual in a comparable position at each association was invited via email to participate in the study. Individuals willing to participate in the interview were emailed the interview questions in advance. Telephone interviews were conducted in July and August of 2009. For those who did not respond to the email request or who did not wish to participate in the interviews, information was collected from the association’s website.

Main Results – Of the 23 contacted associations 12 agreed to be interviewed: less than 50% response rate. Data was collected from websites of seven associations that either declined to be interviewed or did not respond to the authors’ email request. Data were unavailable for four associations due to data being in members only sections of the websites. Data were analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Resources and services provided by the associations and licensing colleges range from none to reference services provided by a librarian and access to licensed databases.

None of the three licensing colleges or the two provincial associations interviewed maintains usage statistics or surveys their members. Nor do they grant access to licensed databases or offer information services, such as having a librarian or other information professional available to answer reference questions or to perform mediated literature searches. The two provincial associations and the three licensing colleges interviewed do supply information pertinent to health professionals, for example insurance information and funding.

Seven national associations were interviewed: two permit access to databases developed by that association and three grant access to licensed databases such as Medline. All seven national associations provide access to journals (four of the seven only provide access to their own association’s journal) and five offer information services. Four maintain usage statistics and five survey their members.

Of the seven associations not interviewed, none grant access to licensed databases and one permits access to databases developed by that association. Five provide access to their own association’s journal and one provides book loans. Only one offers information services. Cost and the priority to provide resources to staff over members are barriers when trying to provide association members’ services and resources.

Conclusion – Health professionals’ access to health information varies depending on the professional’s area of specialization, location in Canada, and particular association memberships. There is no consistency as to what health information is available to all health professionals in Canada, specifically Alberta. The majority of the associations do not provide resources and services, nor do they survey members to assess their usage, desires, needs, or satisfaction with resources and services. Usage rates are low for the associations that do track resource and service usage.

A resource list of freely available online health information should be generated to mitigate existing disparities without accruing additional cost factors. Also, a partnership between hospital and academic libraries with various associations is needed to promote the usage of licensed and freely available resources accessible at institutions.

This study has several limitations. The low response rate and excluding associations and licensing colleges in other provinces make this an incomplete assessment of all associations which provide resources and services to health professionals in Canada, specifically Alberta. To compensate for this deficit, the authors had collected information from seven associations’ websites; however, because much of the needed information was within members-only pages, some data may be missing. Due to the study’s limitations, further research is needed to better assess health professionals’ information needs and barriers to their use of available resources and services.

Keywords


health information; evidence-based; health professional associations; Canada; Alberta; health practitioners

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