Skills in Search As Valuable as Memorization

Posted on May 6, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Neils’ article about Unrealistic Expectations about Clinical Decision Support made me think of how important the ability to know where to find the information can be in so many different situations. In fact, memorization of where to search might be more valuable and useful than strict memorization of everything.

The core point is that with very rare exception, the human mind can only store and recall so much information. However, if you only have to remember where to find a certain piece of information, it’s much easier to remember. For example, many of my readers probably don’t realize that I have a network of TV blogs. I get a lot of credit on those websites for listing out the music for those shows. Funny thing is that I’m not all that good at identifying songs. However, I am great at searching and finding the information.

Why can’t we accept this from doctors? Why do we expect that doctors should know everything as opposed to accepting that they don’t know everything, but they know where to find out more? Many actually can accept this.

Of course, many people might appropriately ask the question, “If my doctor’s just going to look up the information, why don’t I just look it up myself?”

There are quite a few reasons why it’s not the same. Let me just give one of them. While Doctors don’t know everything, they have been trained to identify the relevant information. Understanding what’s relevant turns out to be incredibly valuable when trying to solve a problem.

How about an example for comparison sake. Many Windows users are quite familiar with what’s affectionately called the Windows “Blue Screen of Death.” To the untrained eye, the blue screen of death is a daunting screen that provides an information overload of error messages of what went wrong your computer. To an IT person like myself, I can quickly identify the 1 or 2 lines that are actually relevant to the problem and find a possible solution.

While certainly not a perfect comparison, I think the skills that a trained doctor uses to identify a medical issue are similar to the above scenario. Funny thing is that no one would have any issue with me doing a search for how to solve the problem the blue screen of death identifies. However, many are uncomfortable with the idea of their doctor doing a similar search.

This isn’t to say that patients shouldn’t participate in their own care. That’s a related, but different topic. However, I echo Neil’s call for patients to be more accepting of doctors who use clinical decision support and other tools that help provide better care. Not to mention his call for doctors to not be afraid to admit when they don’t know everything, but that they have the tools, resources and skills to provide great patient care.