Objective: An updated systematic review was carried out of research studies looking at the value and impact of library services on health outcomes for patients and time saved by health professionals.
Methods: A comprehensive systematic search was undertaken of the published literature to September 2003 in ERIC, LISA, MEDLINE, PREMEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register and Google. Some handsearching was carried out, reference lists were scanned and experts in the field were contacted. Twenty-eight research studies of professionally led libraries for health-care staff, including clinical librarian projects, met the inclusion criterion of at least one health or 'time saved' outcome. Papers were critically appraised using internationally accepted criteria. Data were extracted and results were summarised using a narrative format as the studies were heterogeneous and precluded a statistical analysis.
Results: There is evidence of impact from both traditional and clinical librarian services. The higher quality studies of traditional services measured impacts of 37-97% on general patient care, 10-31% on diagnosis, 20-51% on choice of tests, 27-45% on choice of therapy and 10-19% on reduced length of stay. Four studies of clinical librarian projects suggested that professionals saved time as a result of clinical librarian input, and two of these studies showed evidence of cost-effectiveness. However, the clinical librarian studies were generally smaller, with poorer quality standards.
Conclusions: Research studies suggest that professionally led library services have an impact on health outcomes for patients and may lead to time savings for health-care professionals. The available studies vary greatly in quality but the better quality studies also suggest positive impacts. Good practice can be gathered from these studies to guide the development of a pragmatic survey for library services that includes the direct effects for patients among the outcome measures.