Focus on importance of information literacy skills in medical education.

Medical education, in it’s current modern form (since the Flexner Report of 1910) seems ripe for change if the response rate to a recent AMA program intitiative is any indication.  The American Medical Association recently developed a proposal outlining a number of  key trans-formative changes they would like to see in the way physicians are educated. The response from US medical schools was in their words “overwhelming”. 

“The reason the AMA emphasizes “accelerating” change is that incremental changes aren’t enough to ensure that future doctors get the training they need in a world in which rapid business, population and technological changes have made being a doctor a much more dynamic profession. These have to be systemic changes, as bold and far-reaching in our time as they were in the wake of the Flexner report.”

Click to read the full report (posted March 18, 2013): Medical schools signal readiness for revolution 

In my role as Library Director at UMHS, a top tier Caribbean medical school, I habitually stress to our faculty and students the importance of that fundamental skill element for success as an ‘evidence-based’ medical practicioner, the ability to find the current best evidence. To determine the best diagnosis and course of treatment for the best clinical outcomes, medical students must learn how to locate the best, most up-to-date, credible medical evidence to support their case. This requires a fairly sophisticated level of skill in information searching, along with knowledge of the credible medical literature, the databases that contain it, as well as an understanding of the structure and functioning of the online environment.

I commend the AMA for recognizing the fact that mature information-seeking behavior needs to be aquired by medical students, and for stepping up the focus on the importance of learning the concepts involved. Now the onus is on medical schools to include throughout their curriculum, embedded or otherwise, adequate instruction and ongoing reinforcement of information literacy skills.  

” The proposals reflect a changing health care delivery system transformed by technology so that the skill of finding and applying information is as important — or more so — than memorizing it.”  

You may be thinking, “Isn’t Generation Y completely computer savvy already?” In fact the answer is no, for the most part they aren’t. I can say this confidently because of another report finding, also recently released, called the JISC Digital Information Seeker Report. This report demonstrates what my gut has told me all along, that the crucial factor in student’s information seeking behavior is convenience! What does this lead to? The report’s initial results indicate that

“…as users progress through the educational stages, the digital literacies they employ do not necessarily become more sophisticated.”  “…findings indicate the students use smart phones and laptop computers to access Wikipedia, Google, teachers or professors, friends and peers to get information for their academic studies.”

Click to read the full report (posted by OCLC, March 20, 2013): JISC Digital Information Seeker Report 

Google is great for KISS (‘keep it simple searching’) and ‘needle-in-a-haystack’ type searches, however when it comes to a medical diagnosis the best, most accurate information is required! An interesting  BMJ research article by Hangwi Tang and Jennifer Hwee Kwoon Ng, called “Googling for a diagnosis – use of Google as a diagnostic aid: internet based study.”,  found that Google yielded a correct diagnosis 58% of the time (based on one year’s worth of diagnostic case records published in the New England Journal of Medicine). Not an accuracy rate that would inspire patient confidence!

If the anticipated ‘MedEd Revolution‘ unfolds as the AMA is indicating, it is my hope that medical schools will recognize the expertise already in their midst and turn to their ‘Information Professionals” ~ the medical librarians! I will rest my case with the age-old words of wisdom penned by Samuel Johnson…

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find the information.”

and reiterated by US President Barack Obama….

“Every day, we are inundated with vast amounts of information… Rather than merely possessing data, we must also learn the skills necessary to acquire, collate, and evaluate information for any situation.”
— President Obama’s proclamation of National Information Literacy Awareness Month, October 2009.

About UMHS:

Built in the tradition of the best US universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences focuses on individualized student attention, small class sizes and recruiting high quality faculty. For these reasons, UMHS is quickly becoming the school of choice among Caribbean medical schools.

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