Managing information overload: 5 tips from an editor-in-chief
March 27, 2019
By Jonathan Davis
Elsevier’s VP & Editor-in-Chief, Medical and Drug Content, shares best practices to manage the unprecedented amount of data available to science and health professionals
The rate at which new information is being created is staggering(opens in new tab/window). It’s easy to be overwhelmed, but “you can’t just throw up your hands and say there’s too much,” says Dr. Leslie Dye(opens in new tab/window), Elsevier's VP and Editor-in-Chief for Medical and Drug Content, who specializes in emergency medicine, medical toxicology and addiction medicine. Dr. Dye recently spoke with Dr. Josh Bezansen(opens in new tab/window), an Emergency Medicine Resident in Edmonton, Canada, for the podcast Boldly, powered by Joule(opens in new tab/window). Together they covered how to discern the must-have from the nice-to-have information. If you’re starting out in medicine, are a seasoned medical professional, or gathering data for your 9-to-5 job, these tips can help you navigate the ocean of information available at your fingertips. Over the last two years, 90 percent of the world’s information as we know it has been created — about 2.5 quintillion bytes a day(opens in new tab/window). Information overload is a genuine challenge for the research community, and Dr. Dye suggests that we should all step back and look at the evolution of information in general, thinking about how it is created and shared.
These five tips can help you manage that data and hone in on what’s helpful.
1. Think quality over quantity.
With so much information to digest, it’s important to learn how to recognize and interpret the literature, Dr. Dye says. For medical professionals, history show us that information literacy skills have not changed a great deal over time. You have to have a good foundation and always be able to evaluate a study critically – separating the real news from “fake news.”
Big Takeaway #1: Base your literature reviews on multiple high-quality sources (systematic reviews, peer-reviewed journal articles, textbooks, etc) in any medium (physical or digital). Blogs and podcasts should refer to high-quality content and be done by reputable experts.
2. Dive deeper to find sources you can trust.
When you’re confident with the literature, dive deeper into the information’s selection criteria. Check out the editorial board, for example. “Look at whoever is creating that content,” stresses Dr. Dye. “Make sure that it’s a mixture of academic and clinical expertise – particularly if you’re looking for a clinical resource.”
Big Takeaway #2: Be open to other information you discover. Find deeper sources, like good textbooks and journals you can trust and rely on, even podcasts. References outside your specialty can be especially helpful.
3. Manage your personal library.
Reference management systems like Mendeley and Google Scholar are useful. The ability to save references by topics, adding notes for clarification, and categorizing information by levels of importance relevant to your needs will help you find what you need for later reading.
Big Takeaway #3: Dr. Dye cautions to not get caught up in applying levels of evidence too rigorously. Just because there is a high level of evidence assigned to a particular piece of content, it doesn’t always mean the content is applicable to the clinical situation. And there are many different ways to determine levels.
4. Talk about the literature – and challenge assumptions.
We need to incorporate the information we discover into our own lives. Dr. Dye suggests asking colleagues to see the evidence for a recommendation. Challenge assumptions, get curious about learning the basics, and understand the context.
Big Takeaway #4: Apply the information you gather to the everyday; translate theory into practice. “That’s important to realize,” says Dr. Dye, reminding us that we have to understand that practicing medicine is still an art and subject to interpretation; clinicians have to practice in the context of the patient.
5. Use tools, recommenders and other technology.
Trustworthy recommendations organically cultivated by editors may be a challenge to retrieve quickly, but advances in technology, AI and machine learning(opens in new tab/window) can help us compile and manage the information flow more easily. New processes in assessing the quality of literature can also lessen the burden.
Big Takeaway # 5: Like everything else, tools have to be seen in context. Technology’s advancement and the data revolution have helped push the boundaries of research. Using the tools available can help you make better, informed decisions.
So where is all this going? What will clinical practice, point-of-care tools and information search/retrieval systems look like 10 years from now? Trends point to further integration, helping create a future information system that will bring us faster and more effective diagnoses and treatment for patients while advancing research and increasing collaboration.