Information Overload & Healthcare’s Direction

Iron Lung Ward Blog post by Joe Babaian

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.
– John Maynard Keynes

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.
– Steve Jobs

We’ve all been embracing the shift in healthcare from information being contained to just the clinic visit, the surgery waiting room, the nurses’ office, and printed newspaper article. The good old days when the information we received was the information we believed. Well, we all know the good old days weren’t all that good and it’s the journey of developing new ideas and new innovations that takes hard work and matters the most.

We have reached a point where the quantity of information in healthcare is so massive that it actually has become opaque to many – the very people who stand to benefit from new options, current research, and new ways of communicating. This includes physicians, nurses, AND patients. As far back at 1996 ! we see an article discussing this and its only gotten worse since then. Take a look: “Health care workers overburdened by information overload,” from CNN in 1996.

Just yesterday I happened to visit the Suicide Prevention Social Media chat #SPSM (thanks Sean Erreger @StuckonSW), a focused group that makes a difference in mental health care for those at risk. Twitter wouldn’t even be founded until over 10 years past the CNN article above! The #SPSM chat allows carers and those at risk access to information – but that’s really too clinical of a term – access to resources that can and do make a difference in their lives. Here we have information overload curated and filtered down to the human level – healthcare works well in this view.

Here’s what a person searching for help or collaboration would have found last night:

Now, I know that’s about as welcoming as anything I’ve ever seen in healthcare. Friends and new friends. Think about that.

So we have new ideas and, like Keynes mentioned, it’s not easy to escape the old ones. Further, as Jobs pointed out, we need leaders that drive innovation. When we combine new ideas and innovation, we get things like Twitter, care communities, new ways to run medical education, and healthcare coming online, opening doors to accessible and cogent information.

In this new age, we not only have to contend with processing the vast amount of information out there, but we must consider how to reach the people that need it and present things in a cogent way. We err when we make assumptions about the “golden age” of #DigitalHealth when we don’t consider those without the means to truly engage (whether due to income/low SES, lack of information about the tools, or just being on society’s fringes). Dr. Steven Chan writes about this in “Beyond an Apple a day: why digital health needs to target Android” on MedPage Today by asking:

Where is Android in the digital health ecosystem? And why should we pay attention to non-Apple platforms?

These nuances show us where we need to focus:

  • Bringing physicians online without fear (educate, inform)
  • Reaching underserved communities (outreach, educate, resources)
  • Meeting people/patients where they are (social media, local clinics, weekends)
  • Sharing information that’s cogent, current, & reliable (curation, new channels)

Healthcare’s direction is the same as always – forward. We must be agile and smart enough to adapt as we use the newest tools to reach the populations we seek. It will never again be so simple as the family doctor saying, “Polio is bad, take this shot.” Everyone must be ready to act agents to connect the new reality with the people and patients that need Healthcare Leaders of all stripes to make a difference.

Let’s consider all the new ideas, changes to Healthcare and the implications along with the #hcldr community of professionals, patients, clinicians, administrators, lurkers, and advocates! Please join us on Tuesday June 16, 2015 at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) as we discuss the following topics:

  • T1 How has the super-wealth of healthcare information impacted you as a provider? As a patient?
  • T2 What do you feel is the future of social media tools in healthcare?
  • T3 What great ideas do you have to get the right healthcare information to the people who need it? What are some bad ideas you’ve seen?
  • T4 What can we as healthcare leaders do to make healthcare information & resources truly egalitarian?


“Beyond an Apple a day: why digital health needs to target Android” Steven Chan, Medpage Today, June 5. 2015 Accessed June 14, 2015

“Health care workers overburdened by ‘information overload’” Al Hinman, CNN, Jan 28, 1996 Accessed June 14, 2015

“Study: Healthcare Industry Contains Most Cloud Data Breaches” Michael Cusanelli, Talkin’ Cloud, June 15, 2015. Accessed June 15, 2015

“IN NEW WORLD OF HEALTHCARE CHOICES, HELPING PATIENTS MAKE GOOD DECISIONS” Andrew Kitchenman, NJ Spotlight, May 21, 2015 Accessed Jun 13, 2015

“What Can We Do to Simplify Healthcare?” Markus Fromherz, The Health Care Blog, April 10, 2012  Accessed June 14, 2015

Image Credit

Iron Lung Ward – FDA – CC License



  1. We need to increase focus on and ensure the health of the relationship part of healthcare delivery which is all too easily diminished with overload of information, limited resources, lack of communication and interpersonal skills, toxic cultures. Technology can help us I’m sure, but not as a substitute for our connections. I include therapeutic relationships with our patients and inter-professional relationships with our colleagues. This ‘soft’ or human side of the work influences safety, workplace violence (to us and among us), morale and burnout, patient experience, wasted resources, and to the point of this article, the exchange of information.

    I’d like to share a couple of resources:
    This 12 min youtube demonstrates what happens to us when we are bombarded with info:
    Interruption Awareness: A Nursing Minute for Patient Safety

    Looking at Patient Safety Through a New Lens

  2. Awesome photo. Ann Miller RN MHA

  3. Wow, this is a great post! As someone who’s had extensive experience on either side of the medical divide, as a patient with multiple disabling conditions, and before I got sick working in outpatient mental healthcare clinics of various sorts, I definitely understand the information overload problem in its many facets. I worked with Drs, many of them locum tenums loong past their expiration date, who would expound on the virtues and simplicity of the DSM II days. (Because diagnosing someone with a case of the gays is still relevant, right? Heh) Or with substance abuse counselors who thought that doing their recommended CEUs each year was all they needed to stay abreast of current treatment methods. I’ve always made an extra effort to stay on top of new healthcare information the best that I could manage, both when concerning my patients, and concerning myself as a patient. I’m absolutely appalled by how often I’m treated in a condescending manner by Drs who feel they have all the facts they need, but are so woefully ignorant of information and treatments that aren’t even new. They’re out there for everyone to see, and if I, an obvious “layman”, am able to find such things then why haven’t my doctors? Why hadn’t my coworkers?
    The nicest thing any doctor ever said to me when I proposed a treatment they’d never heard of or didn’t use was a very condescending, “Did you read that somewhere?”, as if to say, Aww who’s trying to play doctor?, and give me a good pat on the head for my effort, but I should just leave it to the professionals. The worst thing I ever heard, a very angry so-called MS specialist trying to pass off my MS symptoms as being a mental health issue, shouted at me and said, “So you’re the doctor now?!”, and he actually threw me out of his office and felt the need to tell me to never come back, as if I actually would. “Oh please Mr. Doctor Sir, would you yell at me some more?” Hehe I just figured, if he wanted to butt heads on mental health issues, I had every right to correct them.
    I understand, these people went to school for far longer to get their titles than I did to get mine, but there’s no monopoly on information and every patient should be expected to know as much about their diagnoses and treatments as they’re able. Doctors should see that as a good sign, of effort and diligence to get well, not as a presumption and a failing. I always found it refreshing in my various professions when a client or patient entered my office informed. Even if they were honestly doing it just to spite me, it showed initiative, and made for much more lively conversation, and when it came down to it I could always fall back on “It’s not as if you didn’t know this…”
    There should be no caste system in healthcare, no Us or Them mentality. We should be working together, and any new information brought to the table should be valued, and if a patient manages to stumble onto a treatment with which the Dr is unfamiliar, that should be their cue to brush up on the research regarding that patient’s illness. Just 5 mins of online research and fact checking could change that person’s life forever. There’s no shame in admitting that there’s too much info available for a doctor to be knowledgeable of all of it, but they should definitely feel ashamed for brushing someone off and not even bothering to follow up on a tip simply because the person giving the info didn’t have an MD after their name.
    Thank you so much for your very refreshing article. 🙂

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