Donald LindbergDr. Donald Lindberg, long-time director of the National Library of Medicine, is surely the single most-quoted authority from “Doc Tom” Ferguson’s e-Patient White Paper. In almost every speech I’ve given in the past five years I’ve used Doc Tom’s quote of Dr. Lindberg in the White Paper:

“If I read and memorized two medical journal articles every night, by the end of a year I’d be 400 years behind.”

It’s a hoot to see people’s faces as this sinks in: “Holy crap, it’s not realistic to expect doctors to know everything!” The power of this realization is that if a patient shows up with an article the doc hasn’t seen, it’s no insult to the clinician. Instead, the door becomes open to partnership – to participatory medicine.

To have this statement come from a highly respected member of the establishment has been of transformational importance in our work. Now, Dr. Lindberg is retiring at the end of March, and the Library has issued a call for public comment:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has issued a call for participation in a Request for Information (RFI), allowing the public to share its thoughts … helping to chart the course of the National Library of Medicine … in preparation for recruitment of a successor

They wrote and explicitly invited comment from the e-patient world. This is important, because our work in this Society includes changing the culture of medicine, which, as we need to understand from its history and from how it is practiced today, is highly oriented toward authoritative voices. Dr. Lindberg’s realistic perspective on medical knowledge, and also his understanding and respect of the history of medicine as it relates directly to patients, has been effective in our movement, and we want to be sure his replacement further extends the Library’s influence on empowering patients and families.

What do we want? What would we love to see in a successor?

I personally assume we want the next leader to share our vision of engaged, empowered e-patients who are fully informed, to the extent of their abilities, by the resources that live in the Library. (After all, it’s a shame and a waste if knowledge lives in that library and isn’t brought to every relevant case, right?)

But do you agree with my assumption? And that’s just one aspect – what else would we ask the NIH to seek?

 

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