Editor’s Notebook

July / August 2010

Editor’s Notebook

No Easy Answers

Earlier this summer, I co-presented a webinar for the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) that focused on different sources of information currently available about patient safety, as well as opportunities for prospective authors. My co-presenter, Lorri Zipperer of Zipperer Project Management, and I covered a wide range of print publications, online databases, discussion groups, blogs, and social media sources.

We were blessed with a lively, inquisitive audience and have answered about 20 questions so far, both live following the webinar and by email follow-up since then. The webinar and especially the questions have caused me to think more deeply about issues I face daily as editor of PSQH: What constitutes reliability in information? What does “peer reviewed” mean? Where do most people turn for information?  What is the appropriate role for social media in medicine?  The questions asked by our audience indicate that professionals and consumers, representing many different roles in patient safety, are asking similar questions. The questions are important; simple, easy answers are elusive.

Questions from the audience included the following:
•    How do you recommend I go about identifying the best and most relevant resources, in order to avoid information overload?
•    How can I differentiate personal promotion from legitimate, reliable information?
•    What are your thoughts on physician acceptance of social media as a legit source of patient safety information? I typically get sent back to scientific journals as the ONLY reliable source for evidence-based anything.

I recently reviewed the answers Lorri and I supplied and found that repeatedly, in different ways, we said that each of us must be as open minded, curious, smart, and analytical as possible as we seek information and guidance about patient safety. To quote Lorri, “Read and verify.” (Isn’t that true of any topic or question these days?)

As much as it would be a grave mistake to naïvely accept unverified pronouncements found on the Internet or through social media contacts, it’s also a bad idea to take traditional, peer-reviewed scientific journals at face value and to consider them the only trustworthy sources of information. There are no easy answers. Being able to identify the “best” source of information involves answering some questions, beginning with:
•    What is the goal of your search for information?
•    What is the range of possible information sources?
•    What resources might your organization, a professional society, and trusted colleagues contribute to your search?

The webinar, Patient Safety Resources and Publication Strategies: Uncovering and Contributing Important Knowledge in the Field, is available at www.npsf.org into mid-Sept. Lorri Zipperer’s blog (http://patientsafetylib.blogspot.com/) includes a link to the webinar and her recent thoughts about “Reliability and information/knowledge-sharing vulnerabilities.”