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Health Informatics in Clinical Practice

Information Overload

The scale of the problem

The medical profession is one that is knowledge intensive. It has been estimated that an experienced clinician may use up to 2 million pieces of information in order to manage a complex patient.

We also know that the body of clinical information doubles every nineteen years.This equates roughly to a four-fold increase of knowledge during the average professional life span of a clinician of 40 years.

In more immediate time frames, there are about five thousand biomedical articles published every month.What this means is that to keep up-to-date, a clinician would need to find and review about 19 high quality articles each day, 365 days of the year.

Such is the scale of the challenge faced by all clinicians.

Information consumption

Information, unlike material goods, cannot be "consumed" in the real sense of the word. However, information can and does "consume" the attention of its' recipient. As a consequence, a "wealth of information creates a poverty of attention".

Malthusian law of Information

This leads us on to the "Malthusian law of information" which states that "the fraction of information produced that is actually consumed will with time approach zero".

This is based on the assumption that the amount of information available continues to grow at an exponential rate as it does now. The limiting factor then becomes our attention, which is the scarce resource.

Information famine

Without effective information management, this may lead to a paradoxical "information famine", where one cannot find what one needs because there is too much information at hand, all "demanding attention".

With this in mind, it is not surprising to find that as early as 1989; a study commissioned by the publishers of New England Journal of Medicine have already found that 2/3 of physicians surveyed felt that the body of knowledge available was already unmanageable.

Clinical consequences

We also know that of the one to two questions generated from each doctor patient encounter, only a third is pursued for answers.Of this one third, only 25% of the searches are successful, despite involving the services of librarians.

Perhaps, it is not surprising then that the most quoted source of information for clinicians is their colleagues.

Strategies to meet the challenge

  1. Selection of relevant information sources

  2. The ability to rapidly appraise clinical papers

  3. The adoption of tertiary sources of information

are the three proposed strategies to cope with this challenge of avoiding "information overload"

 

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Page Updated: 17 May, 2017

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