Health care practitioners are faced with an ever-increasing volume of information that presents a serious challenge for staying current in their fields. Information Mastery is a way to use their limited time and energy to filter through the thousands of studies published in the literature every year to find those that are most useful to them.
The concept of Information Mastery was developed by Allen Shaughnessy, PharmD, and David Slawson, MD.1 The method applies the principles of evidence-based medicine to daily clinical practice by evaluating information in terms of 3 characteristics: It must be relevant to the practice, it must have validity, and it must take little work to acquire. These characteristics are related in the Usefulness Equation:
Usefulness = Relevance x Validity
In Information Mastery, relevance focuses on evidence that evaluates the outcomes of interventions that are useful in one’s clinical practice and that are important to patients. Instead of trying to read everything, the practitioner asks:
· Is the problem studied one that is common or important to my practice and is the intervention feasible?
· Is the outcome one that patients would care about, i.e., that will enable them to live long, functional, satisfying, pain- and symptom-free lives?
· If the information is valid, will it require me to change my current practice?
Research is done on a “sample” of a population and results are used to estimate the effect of an intervention on the whole population. So, research should reflect the “truth” about the results, that is, be free of bias. Assessment of the degree of bias, to accept or reject the results of a study, is known as validity assessment. Well-designed clinical trials minimize bias and are more likely to provide valid conclusions. This is the hardest part of Information Mastery; practitioners must accept responsibility for assuring that validity has been critically assessed for all studies. Unfortunately assessing validity is time-consuming and requires certain skills and knowledge about study design and methodology. As a result, some turn to YODAs (your own data analyzer) in their communities or use high-quality evidence-based resources (e.g., the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews) to do high-quality assessments for them.
Work is the time, energy and money required to find needed information. In the usefulness equation, too much work lowers the usefulness. On the other hand if something requires little work, it may not be valid or relevant. The amount of work will vary with an information need and possible resources, but it’s important to balance the three factors of the equation.
1. Slawson DC, Shaughnessy AF, Bennett JH. Becoming a medical information master: feeling good about not knowing everything. J Fam Pract 1994;38:505-13.