Information overflow – how to cope with it?

Abstract for a workshop during the NIVA course on eHealth Revolution and Changing Work, 18th – 20th of September 2018, Hanaholmen – the Swedish-Finnish Cultural Centre, Espoo, Finland

Kaija Saranto, Professor in Health and Human Services Informatics, University of Eastern Finland, Department of Health and Social Management

Digitalization has not only changed information management with various means and electronic tools, but it has also changed the way professionals communicate in health care. Synchronous communication in the form of face-to-face meetings has always been the key method of communication in consultations between professionals and customers. Communication includes also body language, attitude and tone. Today, a lot of communication in occupational health services occurs asynchronously using recorded data through orders and results, as well as progress notes and websites. Thus, not only professionals deal with massive amounts of information; patients and customers are also required to process a wide amount of health status-related information before, during and/or after consultations.

Some decades ago, professionals were worried about the printouts customers often brought to consultations, asking for a second opinion regarding their situation because of information they found on the internet. However, in recent years, a remarkable number of applications were made available for people to monitor daily wellbeing. Naturally, patients and customers want to share this data with professionals. However, while the purpose of measurements is obvious, the quality of the data is unknown or not acceptable. This issue also addresses the problem having too many channels available for synchronous communication and increasing the diversity of asynchronous communication. Therefore, diversity can refer to the nature of information itself, but it also refers to the asynchronous format in which it appears — referrals, records, summaries, databases, emails, voice-mails and/or websites.

According to Bawden and Robinson (2009), information overflow refers to situations where an individual’s efficiency in using information in their work is hampered by the amount of relevant, and potentially useful, information available to them. In practice, information overflow occurs in a situation when information received becomes a hindrance rather than a help, even when the information is potentially useful. One of the contributing factors for this dilemma is in the contextual change of the work environment, namely remote employment using mostly asynchronous communication.

The aim of this session is to discuss and identify solutions professionals can use in terms of asynchronous communication in work environments. How to avoid information overflow in the best possible way is a complex and challenging subject. Although convenient and rapid access to information is a positive feature of information technology, it is also a pitfall for creating pathologies of information, like information anxiety, avoidance or withdrawal. Thus, as our work environments become increasingly more complex and digital, the solutions to cope with information overflow will need continuing and emerging attention.

Bawden D, Robinson L. 2009. The dark side of information: Overload, anxiety and other paradoxes and pathologies. Journal of Science 35(2), pp. 180-191. doi: 10.1177/0165551508095781

More information: Course web page
Registration: Course registration
Last registration date: 10th of August 2018