I have recently completed a short study exploring the causes, impact and solutions to information overload in hospital doctors and pharmacists. This was completed with input from Dr Janet Harrison from CIM. I presented the study as my invited Key Note Address at the 19th Congress of the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists in Barcelona on the 28th March 2014. There were over 3,500 delegates from across the world.
An online questionnaire was developed based upon a literature review I jointly authored, published in 2004. It was updated to include development of social media and increase in use of e-mail. The questionnaire was completed by 55 UK NHS staff (21 hospital pharmacists and 34 hospital doctors) with the majority of respondents being under 40. Another person involved with the study was my son (Dr James Walton) who is specialising in emergency medicine in Yorkshire. He provided the clinicians’ perspective and also was very helpful in the questionnaire distribution. The period for the questionnaire had to be extended to try and improve the response rate.
Key findings included:
· All respondents are effected by information overload and its impact appears to be increasing
· Information overload is caused by issues such as evidence based practice, 24/7 culture but social media and patients bringing in information have limited influence
· Impact is longer working hours, stress and tension and feeling that never have enough information. Least impact is upon impaired clinical judgement
· Information skills, prioritisation, time management and e mail handling skills used to overcome information overload. Support from individuals and ICT not used very much as helping mechanisms
Key quote:” (It is difficult)… trying to sort out the important information from the irrelevant. You’ve often spent several minutes reading it before you realise it’s irrelevant.”
This was a small scale study but it did generate some useful findings(http://www.eahp.eu/congresses/speaker/walton-graham). It would be great to extend the study to a wider population and also to other clinical professions. The most significant finding to me was that without exception, all respondents were suffering from information overload. This alone is justification for further exploration and examination.