Call A Doctor

In the early days of COVID-19, one of the patrons of Pottsboro Area Library, TX, got in touch with Director Dianne Connery with a dilemma. The patron had undergone an MRI just before the pandemic began, and her doctor wanted to discuss the results. Unfortunately, she also had a medical condition that made her doctor wary of bringing her into potential contact with anyone suffering from COVID. So the doctor proposed a video call.

“She didn’t have [broadband] connectivity at home, so she came to the library,” Connery says. Connery loaned the patron her own laptop and office to use the library’s broad­band; problem solved. Shortly after that, another patron who also didn’t have broadband at home approached Connery about setting up a video call with veterans’ hospital Real­izing that there could be a growing demand for these types of services, Connery applied for and received a grant from the National Library of Medicine to retrofit a small storage room to give patrons privacy during their video calls. With that, Pottsboro became one of the first public libraries in the United States to promote telehealth services.

In many ways, Connery’s case illustrates why telehealth is a natural fit for libraries in many communities. Pottsboro is a rural town of 2,600 residents where home broadband infrastructure is limited, and while there are healthcare facilities within a 30 minute drive, medical specialists are often located in cities much farther away. The library is a welcoming place offering privacy for confidential meetings, and if a patron has trouble setting up a videoconference, Connery is there to help.

‘I read some things-especially during the beginning of COVID­ about how much time providers were wasting on telehealth calls because people were muted,” or were experiencing other technical problems, Connery says. “Librarians are just perfectly positioned for this. [We have] the fastest internet in town, we’re used to helping people with this kind of stuff, and we respect privacy.”

While Connery was getting Pottsboro’s program run­ning, plans were already underway at the Delaware Division ofLibraries (DDL) to launch telehealth pilot tests at the state’s Seaford, Laurel, and Milford libraries. Grant funding from Barclays US Consumer Bank, the Delaware Community Foundation,• the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Public Health, the Crystal Trust Foun­dation, Discover Bank, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware, the Longwood Foundation, and the Welfare Foundation enabled DDL to install small, soundproof booths developed by TalkBox and equipped with UV sanitation and HEPA filtration features. Patients were given iPads preloaded with teleservice apps to connect with their doctor or have consultations with DDL’s extensive network of healthcare partners, and part-time staff specialists were available to help schedule appointments or assist with technology.

Inspired partly by DDL’s telehealth pilot, Michele Stricker, deputy state librarian for the New Jersey State Library, also began researching ways that the state’s libraries could potentially offer telehealth services. Ultimately, she decided that DDL’s model would be difficult to replicate and scale. Instead, she turned to Karen Parry, information services manager at the East Brunswick Public Library, NJ, (EBPL) and founder of Just for the Health of lt!, a health lit­eracy and patron health research service-featuring partner­ships with more than 65 hospitals and health care providers throughout the state-that Parry had been running at EBPL since 2009. (Parry was recognized as an LJ Mover & Shaker for the program in 2018. Stricker was recognized as a 2019 Mover & Shaker for her development of The Librarian’s Di­saster Planning and Community Resiliency Guidebook and Workbook toolkit.)

“Hospitals see libraries as very strong partners in the changing landscape of healthcare,” Parry says. “Libraries are what they call ‘upstream medicine.’ We’re the first place people often come (to learn more about a condition or ill­ ness]. They see us as a welcoming place… And immigrants turn to libraries so frequently for health information:”

With the help of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Stricker and Parry developed NJHealthConnect @ Your Library, initially a nine-month project that launched in early 2022. The program distributed 450 iPads to more than 150 communities in New Jersey, focusing on areas that ranked higher on the State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Municipal Revitalization. Index. Remotely managed by EBPL’s IT staff using mobile de­ vice management software, the iPads are all preloaded with telehealth apps from multiple New Jersey hospitals, as ,well as apps and links to mental health organizations, Google Meet and Zoom, crisis hotline information, health literacy information from Medline Plus and EBPL’s own Just For the Health of It! Portal, and more. Libraries were also given training on health literacy programming from EBPL–in many cases by Parry herself–as well as social media messaging tips and ready-made flyer templates to facilitate local outreach for the program.

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About Julia Giantomasi

I've had opportunities throughout my career to coordinate marketing and social media for live events and small businesses across various industries. I've enjoyed keeping up with the trends and using social media to not only promote quality services but create a sense of community. As the PR & Marketing Coordinator for the New Jersey State Library I can draw from these experiences in order to provide tips and best practices for libraries handling their own marketing and social media. I hope that I can be a resource to libraries across New Jersey as they engage with their communities.