Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Types of Information

Recently I sat through a mandatory 5 hour course (large group lectures) on compliance issues when doing research in human subjects. As slide after slide crammed with information was flashed in front of me, my eyes began to glaze over. Somehow I did not think this was a good use of my time. As my thoughts regarding this course began to crystallize, I felt I needed to jot down these ideas. So why did I not like this course?
  1. It was mandatory - and it was being done for the wrong reasons - for compliance rather than education.
  2. No attempt was made to understand what I already knew about these topics
  3. Too much information was presented in a short space of time
  4. It was very passive - all lectures with little discussion
To be fair, if I was actually about to start a research project I would have found a lot of this information more helpful. When I do start my next human subject research project I may actually go to some of the presenters with questions about the topics presented. If I had not attended this course, I may not have even been aware of the need to learn more on some topics.

So the course was not a total waste of time. In addition I got a chance to actually think about information and how is the best way and time to impart this.

Information has been classified as
  1. Facts -"A unique bit of information that identifies an object, person, place etc". e.g. Prilosec is a brand name for omeprazole which is a proton pump inhibitor
  2. Concept - "A category of items or ideas that share some common features" e.g. Symptoms or presentations of Gastroesophageal refulx disease
  3. Procedure - "A series of steps that show how to make or do something" e.g. how to do an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
  4. Process - "A description of how something works or operates" e.g. how is acid or H+ produced in the stomach
  5. Principle - "Rules, algorithms or guidelines" e.g. How to manage GERD, When to do EGD in GERD etc.
As I was thinking about this, it seems there might be another way to classify information:
  1. Information that one should be aware of but don't really need to be able to recite - and is not needed urgently- e.g. the mechanism of acid production in the gastric mucosa
  2. Information that one should either know or be able to find very quickly- name of a PPI and its dose
  3. Information that one would like to validate or learn from others - reading about it alone might not be sufficient - how to do an EGD
  4. Information that one is not aware of and have to make efforts to determine if it exists and to acquire - relative effectiveness of one PPI over another in treating GERD symptoms, or benefits of adding a H2 receptor blocker to a PPI in managing persistent GERD symptoms
It is this last group that is somewhat troublesome. There are a number of online resources and tools that help to find information if you are not aware of it. But if you depend exclusively on this method of information management, you would have a very hard time managing a busy practice. You would spend more time on the computer than with patients. So one of the goals of any personal information management strategy has to be to move more information from the 4th category to categories 1 and 2. This gets back to developing a model for processing information to increase awareness and to help store and retrieve information more efficiently. I had written about this earlier.

Going back to the research course I attended, the organizers could have done it very differently. Their main purpose for doing the course could have been to increase awareness of
1. Common issues that could lead to non-compliance with various funding and regulatory agencies - best done by presenting examples of research studies where these had been factors.
2. Listed resources and procedures in place for helping with these issues
3. Created a simple website to help people find these resources when they needed

This would serve to effectively improve awareness of issues - moving these from category 4 to category 1 and 2. Also for various "exotic"areas like data management the participants would learn how to contact experts (category 3) when needed. The whole course could have been completed in 1 hour!