Student Heather Kartzinel’s Research Supports Global Health Information Project

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Conducting research for a global health information project made San José State University School of Information student Heather Kartzinel more aware of the scope and reach information professionals can have.

In fall 2013, Kartzinel worked as a student assistant for Dr. Christine Hagar, conducting research in support of a global initiative aimed at improving the availability of health information in developing nations. The project is an initiative of the global nonprofit Health Information for All (HIFA), which recognizes that people in many parts of the world are dying due to a lack of health information. The goal of the mobile health, or mHealth, initiative called mHIFA is to have at least one telecom provider in one country provide free access to essential healthcare information in the local language pre-loaded on all new mobile phones or freely downloadable for existing mobile users by 2015.

The aspect of the project Kartzinel worked on involved health information for parents and children in developing countries, and covered topics such as first aid, maternal health and common childhood diseases. Her job as a student assistant entailed identifying existing studies and any other resources she could find regarding projects with similar goals, projects that had been done and failed, and projects that had been proposed but not yet started.

“I explored what turned out to be almost 1,700 projects worldwide to see which of them would most readily be adaptable to this specific goal,” Kartzinel said.

Most of the projects she found were either not adaptable to the mHIFA project or the health information was not specific to children and parents. Kartzinel said she found many online databases that already had lists of projects, but these only accounted for about 1,300 projects. The rest she had to find on her own.

“You really have to know what you’re looking for and weed out the work that’s not relevant,” she said. “What I had to do was look for very specific information, and it was hard to find. I used every search tool I knew to find it.”

Kartzinel said working with the mHIFA project has shown her the worldwide reach of the information profession, as well as the impact information professionals can have on meeting local health literacy needs.

“Now I feel like I can actually do something,” she said. “This group of people can actually change the world. I’m very excited to have been part of this particular HIFA group and connect with people in this way.”

Kartzinel started the Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program in 2010 after a career in the pharmaceutical industry. That background gave her a familiarity with medical terminology and health records, and a strong desire to promote health literacy and the free sharing of healthcare information.

While she always wanted to go into the information field, Kartzinel lost sight of her dream as an undergraduate. She earned a degree in biology and psychology with a concentration in neuroscience at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

“Then as I was working in the pharmaceutical industry with databases and health records, it occurred to me, oh yeah, I can go for medical librarianship,” she said. “It took me 20-plus years to come back to something that was important to me.”

After completing her MLIS degree, Kartzinel would like to work in medical librarianship doing something “very hands-on,” perhaps creating a website or developing an app to promote health literacy.

“Maybe I’ll be involved in re-writing medicine instructions so the average person can understand them,” she said. “I’m pretty medically literate, and even I have trouble understanding them.”

Influential Classes

“All the professors I’ve had are really, really good. I liked INFO 240 Information Technology Tools and Applications that I took with Derek Christiansen. It was influential in that it reminded me that I love programming.

“Another influential class that was awesome was INFO 246 Information Visualization, with Dr. Michelle Chen. It was all about how to express data visually. We started with old-fashioned charts and graphs, and worked on the theory of color and design. Then we went into all these amazing tools. It was so interesting, and I started thinking, oh, maybe the reason why people can’t understand their health information is because it’s not being presented the right way. Maybe health literacy could be improved by the way it’s visualized, by the way it’s communicated.”

Professional Affiliations

American Library Association; Freedom to Read Foundation; The Golden Key International Honour Society