Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

From the Ground Up: Information Needs of Nurses in a Rural Public Health Department in Oregon

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

From the Ground Up: Information Needs of Nurses in a Rural Public Health Department in Oregon

Article excerpt

Objectives: The research identified and assessed information needs and resources of public health nurses in a local health department.

Methods: Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with seventeen public health nurses at a local health department in rural Oregon. Interview transcripts were analyzed using a constant comparative method to assess the information nurses sought and used in their work.

Results: Public health nurses performed a wide variety of roles and associated tasks. Major themes that emerged from analyses of interview transcripts included: (1) differences in information needs depending on position and role; (2) colleagues as the most efficient and trusted source of information; (3) limitations of existing knowledge-based resources; (4) need for up-to-date and pertinent information; and (5) need for personal computers, basic communications software, and expanded Internet access.

Conclusions: Lack of Internet access is a significant barrier to use of information resources, and information tools tailored to meet the needs diverse public health nursing roles and facilitate information sharing among colleagues are needed. Librarians and informaticians can assist by addressing these needs and improving the organization of content and interface design for commonly used websites.


Public health has a wide variety of functions, services, and other roles, most of which are carried out by local public health agencies (including local health departments, jurisdictions, and districts) [I]. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has outlined the three core functions of public health: assessment, such as investigating community health problems or hazards (e.g., infectious disease outbreaks); policy development, such as educating the public or developing policies that support community health (e.g., smoke-free laws); and assurance, such as enforcing regulations or providing personal health care services to underserved populations (e.g., providing family planning services or immunizations) [I]. In carrying out public health functions, local public health agencies are the foundation of the public health system in the United States, and public health nurses are the largest professional group in the local public health workforce [2].

As a field, public health depends heavily on information acquisition and transfer [3-6]; information is critical, in some fashion, for all of the essential services of local health agencies [7]. One of the major objectives of the field of public health informatics is to discover useful applications of information technology to improve public health practice. Emerging information technologies provide an opportunity to efficiently provide updated knowledge-based resources (i.e., information derived from the professional literature of a field of knowledge [4]) and information management services to public health workers. However, to design effective information systems for the practice of public health, librarians and informaticians must clearly understand the information needs of local public health agencies and understand how staff members use information in their daily work.

Several authors have conducted literature reviews to analyze the information needs of health practitioners [8, 9]. In a literature review of rural health practitioners, Dorsch has found that while the information needs and practices of rural health practitioners are similar to their urban counterparts, the barriers to accessing information differ: rural health professionals are thwarted by isolation, lack of services by local libraries, inadequate informationseeking skills, and lack of Internet access that other health professionals do not experience [8].

Few systematic, qualitative studies have been performed of information needs, patterns of information use, information-seeking behaviors, or relationship between information resources and current work processes among health department employees, particularly at the local level [10, H]. …

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