While medical students and residents might be overworked and sleep deprived, the pace of new medical publication will not let up. Clinical researchers (i.e. clinical research companies) publish 7,000 new articles a month. Physicians of tomorrow must keep pace with that research to make the most informed care decisions for the patients for whose care they’ve been entrusted.

Keeping up with all that clinical research – and the evidence built up from new findings, especially on emerging illnesses such as Zika this year, or avian flu, SARS or Legionella in past years – might seem impossible, even for a profession with the highest standards. The trick is not to try to memorize it all, but to rely on trusted resources to highlight key articles on your behalf. – It’s more important, and more possible, to know where to find it when you need it and quickly prioritizing research.

To that end, my DynaMed Plus physician-editor colleagues and I have come up with seven tips on avoiding information overload and staying current with clinical research:

  • Identify the studies and guidelines that matter to your setting and circumstances, and present information in ways that you can use directly. Not all sources of information are right for you no matter how prestigious. This vetting process might sound arduous, but the alternative involves a much bigger mountain to climb: Developing your own custom service for monitoring studies and guidelines. Will your patients be asking if they have contracted the Zika virus? Find an oft-updated source that will have current information on symptoms, treatments and has new information on where the outbreak has spread to gauge the likelihood you may encounter it.
  • Ask yourself, what is this “evidence,” in context? That word “evidence” can mean different things to different people. To be truly evidence-based, study architects should describe how they choose which evidence to include; describe their process of critical appraisal; provide clinical answers without bias or speculation; provide levels of evidence; and offer transparency regarding intent, funding and outside influences.
  • Avoid reading any journal cover-to-cover. It’s too overwhelming, not very useful and most of the content will not be retained. Instead, subscribe to a core set of trusted journal abstracts, blogs and podcasts you can access on your computer and mobile device. Save lengthier, key articles to read later. The trick is to digest little bits of educational material when you have a few spare moments. Identify and use trusted resources that will summarize the studies and guidelines accurately.
  • Apps are your friends. While reading, take notes using Evernote or another cloud-based archival service, like Google Drive. Use a trusted digital clinical reference tool to help verify information and critically appraise the evidence. When you read material that you feel will be useful in clinical care work, keep a running catalog of bedside pearls. The note-taking part is crucial: Writing or typing these helps solidify your learning.
  • Just the facts. If something does not seem right, question its source and reliability. Your job is not to know everything, but to learn how to find, evaluate and use information.
  • Reality check research data with humans you know. Work with faculty or peers to learn how to put new evidence into proper perspective and apply it to individual clinical situations. Information is better retained when it’s associated with a specific patient. This is a correlate of “information just in time vs. information just in case.”
  • Don’t stop learning, skip the inferiority complex. Along those lines, accept that you will never reach the end of learning about medicine. You can help tackle FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) by being a diligent, lifelong learner and committing to learning a little bit every day.

Remember, your job is not to memorize everything. But your job is to find the information when you need it. When you learn how to find, evaluate and use information, you will develop reading habits and critical “filters” that will serve you throughout your career. This will help develop your physician skills that will translate into successful medical practice.

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Dr. Alan Drabkin is a Senior Medical Writer at Dynamed, LLC. and an Assistant Professor (Part-time) in Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He graduated with honors from the University of Cape Town Medical School and trained in general practice in London, England before completing his residency in Family Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He was a practicing physician, educator and administrator at Cambridge Health Alliance for 23 years before joining Dynamed full-time in 2009.

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