In my previous post, I sited a research project that found the average amount of journal reading in 2000 for a practicing internist was around 4 hours per month. This is not an awful lot of reading, given that there are 17,000,000 articles currently available in MedLine. Our field is especially prone to information overload, given the breadth of patients and illnesses we come in contact with. When I graduated from medical school, I did as I was told others did, browsed the medical literature, pulled out articles and put then in a “journal file”, and felt guilty about not doing enough to “keep up”. No wonder the average physicians’ medical knowledge base was directly related to when he or she graduated from residency.

Fast forward 20 years. The Internet was invented by Mr Gore and the personal computer by Mr Gates. Mark Ebell outlines how physicians should use the medical literature. He points out theat the most useful information is relevent, valid and takes little time to access. Computer accessable information is more useful that textbooks (many of which are outdated prior to hitting the shelf). Many physicians now use decision rules to help sort out complex clinical situations. These rules are typically evidence based and often have been validated in “real world” situations. Examples of such rules include the Framingham Cardiac Risk Assessment and the Wells Criteria for suspected pulmonary embolism. Services are now available which aggregate literature and offer clinical “answers to questions” that have been developed using a standardized process. Up-to-date is one such service popular with our residents. If a single journal article is used, it is important to look for those journals that have started to include an assessment of the evidence which supports the recommendations. Then there is searching the 17, 000,000 articles to find the needle in the haystack. What used to be time consuming and complex is now available to anyone on PubMed or Google Scholar.

In short, where previously 15 to 20 clinical questions went unanswered in a typical day, now access to clinical information at the point of service has never been easier. The most important thing is that it’s only going to get easier.