Information overload

Over recent decades, there have been massive increases in the availability of information, both in the medical and veterinary literature, but also in mainstream media. These increases affect veterinary practitioners in different ways, and have driven the need for logical approaches to processing data.

The profusion of veterinary literature means it is no longer possible to read all the primary literature, and it may not be possible to subscribe to all the relevant journals. Different search strategies for finding information must be developed, and even when papers are accessible, they may not be directly relevant or of sufficient quality to warrant a change in practice. Studies may be reported in a simple ‘research news’ format, where details of the study design are not available.

Pile of papersFor these reasons, the human medical field now relies on large scale reviews of evidence to form protocols, and general practitioners rarely read primary literature. The availability of evidence syntheses that provide a ‘clinical bottom line’ is also emerging in the veterinary field (e.g. BestBetsforVets and collections of Knowledge Summaries), and in the future, practising veterinarians will need to have an understanding of the use of evidence syntheses, and may well be interested in developing their own.

However, despite this increase in the amount of available literature, there is still scant evidence for many common veterinary conditions, meaning other sources of information have to be considered.

The rise of the Internet, and in particular, applications where end users can easily generate web content have also affected veterinary practice. Clients have access to many of the same resources that veterinary professionals do, but some will lack the clinical knowledge and judgement to assess whether the advice they find online is sensible. They may have attempted diagnosis, and even worse, treatment, before seeking veterinary advice, and the veterinary surgeon now has an important role in educating owners and debunking myths.

However, not all information on the Internet is unreliable, and where limited scientific evidence is available, certain sources (for example, webinars provided by experts) may provide the ‘best available evidence’ for the question under consideration. EBVM provides a framework to make use of all the available information by employing logical search strategies, rigorously evaluating the information and applying it to practice.