Information Overload: What’s a Nurse to Do?

Information is power, right? As nurses, it can help us make better clinical decisions, advocate for our patients, and improve nursing practice. But if you sometimes have trouble making sense of the information at hand or feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data coming your way, you’re not alone. Many clinicians, including nurses, find they are suffering from information overload in the digital era.

The term “information overload” refers the difficulty you might have in understanding an issue or making a decision, based on the presence of too much information. Your brain has a certain processing capacity, and when information input exceeds that capacity, your decision-making ability may suffer. The information literally becomes a hindrance rather than a help. You may suffer from information overload when data sources contain too much detail (or irrelevant details), are not presented in a format that can be quickly absorbed, or contain inconsistencies or vague statements that require you to do more research.

Clearly, the problem of information overload can have an impact on nursing practice and patient care. So how do we, as nurses, cut through all the noise and static to get to the heart of the matter?

There are three main areas in which nurses may sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the available information:

  • Industry research and trends. Evidence-based nursing practice is built on the premise that current, valid data should support clinical decisions and practices. It involves applying research to patient care, in order to improve outcomes. Yet every day there is a new study or report in the news. How do you find time to read and process all of them? Certain nursing specialties, like infection prevention, are especially dependent on current research and guidelines, while others (like case management) require keeping up with ever-changing government regulations, care delivery models, and reimbursement systems.
  • Continuity of care. Let’s face it, the new emphasis on interdisciplinary and collaborative care means the flow of information to nurses is not necessarily direct or linear any more. We now receive messages, notifications, orders, and requests from a whole multi-disciplinary care team – and we have to figure out which ones require action on our part. We have to take our own clinical observations and integrate them with data from other sources – like lab tests, handoff information from other nurses, care plans, medication records, and a medical record that may be incomplete or badly organized. And as frontline caregivers we have to process all this information with patient safety and outcomes in mind.
  • Electronic medical records. Technology has contributed heavily to information overload, by making it easier and faster to produce information and to distribute it to a wide audience. Digitized patient records increase efficiency in many ways. But they also make it easy for many different people to enter information, which can result in a bloated chart that makes it hard to find the most relevant data. The EMR also makes it possible to copy and paste information from a previous day or another patient’s chart.

Unfortunately, there is no single solution for information overload or perfect strategy for dealing with it. The best strategy may be to focus on high quality information wherever possible, perhaps by employing “filters” to eliminate some of the non-essential data.

Education may also help. A BSN program can help you learn how to find and evaluate existing research studies, develop critical thinking skills, and use technology more effectively. It can open your mind to new ideas and allow you to process information both theoretically and in actual nursing practice, resulting in the highest possible standard of patient care that you’re able to provide. Perhaps this is why such a large body of research has linked BSN-prepared nurses with better patient outcomes.

American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including an RN-to-BSN program and programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in case management, infection control, and executive leadership.