This edition of the HILJ club has been prepared by Rachel Holmes, Clinical Librarian, Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust @holmesrachelj

The paper for discussion is Lacey, P. (2021) Google is goodish: An information literacy course designed to teach users why Google may not be the best place to search for evidence Health Information and Libraries Journal 39 (1), 91-95 (Open Access)

The use of Google to find information in health and social care

Patricia Lacey starts her article by affirming that as librarians and evidence specialists our role is to help people access reliable and validated information to enable – especially in the health and social care setting – the implementation of evidence based practice.

Searching medical or nursing literature databases may be the gold standard if a clinical question arises but even with training, it takes time to carry out a reliable search. Lacey confirmed this with data from feedback after a literature search training course, and discovered that those working in the health sector or the local authority were often reliant on Google searches. Despite the lack of reliability and inherent bias with this, library users in this sector are often time pressured and need immediate information at the point of care so Google appears to be the solution even if they know that the evidence retrieved may not be reliable or be provided in context. Nevertheless, Lacey reports it is an uphill battle to stop library users choosing to search for information on Google.  This article discusses how Lacey and her team developed a course as a result to not say ‘don’t use Google’ but rather how to develop an understanding of why it may not always be the best place to search, and give techniques to avoid potential pitfalls.

The course structure was based on a prior course, and was divided in to 7 sections;

  1. Common myths about Google
  2. Search results
  3. Fake websites
  4. Problems with Google Scholar
  5. Google searching
  6. Other forms of ‘fake’ information
  7. How to fact check

The sessions were run as discussion groups with links to TED talks, practical examples and quizzes incorporated, and they can be run face-to-face or on Microsoft Teams which would be engaging and appeal to all forms of learners.

Feedback from attendees was positive, both from health and social care staff who learnt new skills and from librarians who felt they now had ammunition to use when people asked why they can’t just Google their questions. However Lacey found that the attendance ranged and many people attended as it was part of a larger training day rather than specifically choosing to attend this course. As a result this is part of her advice for colleagues interested in running similar courses, to increase awareness of the course by finding a key promoter in the organisation and aligning it among other activities. She states it is a good time to run this course due to the increase in fake news and misinformation in general. Health and social care staff may not have made the connection between using Google for information searching and misinformation.

Points to consider if planning your own course is that how to search for information is constantly developing and a course like this needs to be reviewed regularly, for example they have now added a separate course for fake news as this area is growing so rapidly there was not time to address this fully in the original course.

Lacey concludes by reminding us that as librarians we deal with information on a daily basis and we instinctively recognise reliable information. It is not so easy for health and social care professionals who may not have had a chance to develop such skills and so this course appears to be an important role in their education on seeking information searching skills.



How can health librarians realistically empower busy health and social care professionals to improve their access to reliable good quality information?

So what?

Evidence based practice results in the best patient experience and outcomes and this is achieved by integrating the best research evidence with clinical expertise. However it is hard for health and social care professionals to find the time to search for such information and so searching Google for answers is not going to stop being the default option for many users. Indeed, depending on the topic in question, Google can provide useful answers from grey literature that would not appear in medical literature databases but it must be used in conjunction with reliable sources of evidence. A course like this may be the compromise that will help everyone access information in context.

Now what?

Health librarians often offer information literacy training sessions at present, and so sections of this course could be incorporated into these sessions. As mentioned above we won’t stop people using Google due to familiarity and the need for immediate solutions but we may give them a chance to view the information received in context. The sessions could be even more effective if they are taught in the context of the learner, for example a course for nurses could be run on searching for evidence to write a care plan or explain a medical diagnosis. My library service has recently started to offer alternative information seeking skills sessions, rather than just training health professionals how to search the databases we teach skills that are more applicable in clinical practice such as how to access other quick forms of reliable information such a clinical decision support tools like BMJ Best Practice and UpToDate for quick answers or how to request an evidence search by a clinical librarian for less immediate answers. I will definitely take time to reflect on how we could incorporate the information from this article in to those teaching sessions.

Questions for discussion

Should health librarians accept that Google searching is here to stay and start to teach such sessions as these or should we still be trying to promote the more traditional use of the medical and nursing literature databases?

What else can usefully be included in information literacy sessions taught by health librarians?

Will you change your practice as a result of reading this article? If so, tell us how?!