Taking the pulse of healthcare information
Esther Ebole Isah is a librarian at the John Harris Library, University of Benin, Nigeria. Prior to her doctoral studies, she fell for the Swedish School of Library and Information Science at the University of Borås.
“To me, Sweden is very exotic, and I really like your climate,” she explains. “And the snow!”
She wanted to write a thesis that would appeal to a wide audience whilst being relevant to other researchers.
“My focus ended up being the study information habits in terms of how people search for it, as well as the need for and use of it, in a workplace. I chose the hospital environment as it is an information intensive environment and entails a great deal of cooperation and interaction with others.”
In the research, she followed a team of physicians in one of the medical departments of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital in Nigeria. She paid close attention and made extensive notes on anything they did that in some way involved information.
The next step was to analyse the physicians' methods of searching for, producing, sharing and using information. She can now show that different sources of information, strategies, tools and instruments are required in order to achieve sustainable information habits in the field of patient care. It may be a matter of listening to patients and colleagues, searching for facts in medical literature, reviewing patient records or examining patients.
“The physicians' goal is to help the patient, and they are probably not aware of their own habits when selecting information sources and strategies,” she explains. “But this is of great interest to us researchers.”
This is a relatively new field of research, and is known as 'information practices'. It emphasises the social context, which also involves cultural and historical factors. Esther Ebole Isah's thesis is the first of its kind in Nigeria.
“This research can be applied in different pursuits, such as developing methods of working and information systems,” she says. “For this, you need to know the established methods in the workplace for the retrieval and use of information. Cultural variations from one country to the next might mean for example that you can't take the methods employed by a Swedish university hospital for handling information and simply copy them across to one in Nigeria.”
Esther Ebole Isah is now back in her role as librarian at the university in Benin, but hopes that her research will inspire others and would like to pursue a research career herself.
“This is just the beginning! There are plenty of aspects that I can do more work on from this foundation, such as how power relationships influence information retrieval and the use of information, or how physicians read a patient's exterior and body language in order to gain more information.
Text and photo: Lena M Fredriksson