Saturday, March 19, 2011

Data, Information, and Knowledge

In order to understand the process of clinical knowledge management, you must first know the difference between data, information, knowledge, and actionable knowledge.
Data is isolated facts. This could be the time, temperature, heart rate or any other number of discrete measurements. Information is data put into context. For instance, is the time EST, CST, or PST? Is the temperature a body temperature or the ambient temperature? Was the heart rate measured on a neonate or an adult?
Once data is put into context to create information, it can be combined with other information to create knowledge. For instance, noon in Tokyo occurs thirteen hours before noon in New York City. While a body temperature of 90F is definitely low, an ambient temperature of 90F may be high or low.  A heart rate of 130bpm in a newborn is average while a heart rate of 130bpm in an adult is fast.
However, none of this knowledge allows you to make a decision, let alone a good decision. It has to be combined with more information to create actionable knowledge. The threshold for reaching actionable knowledge depends on the question.
Some questions are easy: when do I dial into the conference call? You need the time of the meeting, the time zone the meeting is in, your time zone and the time difference between the two time zones. Some questions are hard: is the patient’s heart rate a cause for concern? You need the patient’s current heart rate, their historic heart rate, their age, the normal values of heart rate for their age, their current activity level, the rhythm of their heart beats, the shape and pattern of the heart beats on an EKG and their clinical presentation. 
But whatever the complexity of the question, generating actionable knowledge will improve decision making.

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