3 Best Practices to Avoid Information Overload

What is Information Overload?

We are living in a digital information age. Information overload developed throughout the 20th century as we transitioned from an industrial society to an information based economy.

Information overload occurs when a person perceives that the flow of information associated with work tasks is greater than can be managed effectively.

This is partially due to recording more observations with larger numbers of variables; growth of huge repositories such as PubMed, high speed of data gathering from the Electronic Health Records, and the availability of the internet, apps, email, and papers that are all being published daily.

It Isn’t New & There Are Consequences

We’ve been living with information overload for years. Bawden sums up the concept by saying that information overload occurs when the information received becomes a hindrance rather than a help. We have been living with written information for thousands of years. However, the ability to create, duplicate and access huge amounts of information has created a problem. The root of this problem, they tell us, is that while computer processing is increasing all the time, the humans that must use the information are not getting any faster. One of the major problems with information overload is that information of high relevance gets lost. The spread of electronic devices is causing an epidemic of distraction.

According to T.D. Wilson, in some fields of healthcare, providers have become so specialized that even within the same specialty they cannot keep up with all the information they need to care for their patients.

This leads to lots of wasted time, stress, tension and loss of job satisfaction.


It’s clear that this is a problem, but what can we do to avoid information overload? Quite a bit actually.

1. Recognize that you cannot consume every drop of information.

A recent report by the Institute for Healthcare Informatics estimated there were over 165,000 medical apps in existence! IBM Watson Health estimates that the volume of medical data being generated is expected to double every 73 days by 2020. Trainees in cardiac imaging, for example, reading 40 papers per day five days a week would take 11 years to bring themselves up to date with the specialty. But by the time they had completed their reading another 82,000 relevant papers would have been published. The vast amount of information accessible to individuals is unprecedented both for providers and for patients.

2. Learn to Skim

Since it’s easy to see why you can’t take everything in – learn to grab the key points and move on. This will allow you to grow and learn while still keeping your sanity!

People who know how to skim also make for flexible readers because they read according to their purpose and get the information they need quickly without wasting time. Not reading everything can increase your reading speed as well and helps develop the important skill of knowing what specific information to read.

Do your best to spend less time on what’s nice to know and more time on what you need to know.

3. Get Organized

Creating a system for organizing information is by far the best way to retain information.

If there are certain areas you’d like to stay current in try setting up a Google Alert on the topic or subscribe to a core set of trusted journal abstracts, blogs and podcasts, so the information will come straight to you instead of having to go looking for it. Take it a step further by creating filters in your email inbox to ensure that only priority information that’s worthy of your time makes it through. Once you’ve come across pertinent information you’d like to look further into, try creating an information folder and set aside one hour a day to read it. If you’re someone who gets overwhelmed with new information try only reading one article a day to keep your mind focused on the info at hand.

Another great way to stay organized is delegating information responsibilities. If you are part of a team, don’t take responsibility for knowing everything; encourage people to specialize and then rely on their understanding.

Once you form a system and get organized, you’d be surprised how easy it is to consistently take in information without feeling bogged down by it!


Evidence based practice supports applying the latest research to patient care. There is not one good strategy alone to combat information overload, but the strategies above will help. Advanced education, such as a BSN or an MSN  may help in learning critical thinking skills, how to use technology more effectively and how to find and evaluate research studies.

One thing is for sure: the information age and the days of navigating big data are here to stay!

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