Preventing “information overdose”: Developing information-literate practitioners

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The practice of medicine has been transformed by the convergence of a number of trends and developments. These include changes in the regulatory environment, scientific advances, the emergence of pressures for evidence-based medicine, advances in pharmaceutical knowledge and manufacture, and a shift in the nature of the patient/provider relationship. Many of these circumstances have been brought about or amplified by a variety of technological innovations. Collectively, these changes necessitate continuing—perhaps even continuous—learning and adaptation on the part of both new and established practitioners. At the heart of this need is the explosion of information and of information technologies, which shows little sign of abating. However, it is not simply the volume of information nor even its form that poses a challenge. It is also that outdated, incorrect, or unproven information is as accessible as correct, defensible, and reliable information. Therefore, doctors must be equipped not only with the ability to locate information but to evaluate its relevance and credibility. In short, they must be “information literate.” Since both information and the technologies that give access to it are constantly expanding, a practitioner can never claim to be “information literate” in any absolute or final sense. It is a constantly evolving attribute and, alongside biomedical, clinical, pharmaceutical, legislative, and other domains, needs to form part of the provision of continuing education. Five propositions are advanced concerning this particular aspect of continuing medical education, and the article concludes by arguing that, in the same way that educating patients is the best defense against accidental overdose in the pharmaceutical sense, the best way to prevent “information overdose” is the education of practitioners.

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