Thursday, May 9, 2013

They just Google THAT?!

I admit I needed Google to quickly find out that the category for bunny-shaped clouds is "zoomorphic". And I think Google is wonderful - and so does Tess. But...

There's just been another study published about the latest generation of doctors and their information and searching habits. Like Tess' friend, they rely pretty heavily on Googling. We could all be over-estimating, though, just how good people are at finding things with Google - including the biomedically trained.

Many of us assume that the "Google generation" or "digital natives" are as good at finding information as they are at using technology. A review in 2008 came to the conclusion that this was "a dangerous myth" [PDF] and those things don't go hand in hand. It may not have gotten any better since then either.

Information literacy is about knowing when you need information, and knowing how to find and evaluate it. Google leads us to information that the crowd is basically endorsing. If the crowd has poor information literacy in health, then that can reinforce the problem.

This is an added complication for health consumers. While there's an increasing expectation that healthcare system decisions and clinical decisions be based on rigorous assessments of evidence, that's not really trickling down very fast. Patient information is generally still pretty old school.

What would it mean for patient information to be really evidence-based? I believe it includes using methods to minimize bias in finding and evaluating research to base the information on, and using evidence-based communication. Those ideas are gaining ground, for example in standards in England and Germany, and this evaluation by WHO Europe of one group of us putting these concepts into practice.

Missing critical information that can shift the picture is one of the most common ways that reviews of research can get it wrong. For systematic reviews of evidence, searching for information well is a critical and complex task.

This brings us to why Tess' talents, passions and chosen career are so important. We need health information specialists and librarians to link us with good information in many ways.

This week at the excellent annual meeting of the Medical Library Association in Boston (think lots of wonderful Tess'es!), there was a poster by Whitney Townsend and her colleagues at the Taubman Health Sciences Library (University of Michigan). Their assessment of 368 systematic reviews suggests that even systematic reviewers need help searching.

Google's great, but it doesn't mean we don't still need to "go to the library."

(Disclosure: I work in a library these days - the world's largest medical one at the National Institute of Health (NIH). If this has put you in the mood for honing up your searching skills, there are some tips for searching PubMed Health here.)

1 comment:

  1. Well-written. I have long told people we need to be aware of these issues.