Consider these points in coping with the fruits of the information age.
The information age may be making millionaires out of some Americans, but it's wearing the rest of us down.
The age of information is especially burdensome for veterinarians. Amid busy work schedules, they are expected to attend seminars, scan the Internet for useful information and digest stacks of technical journals for the latest research. Faxes, e-mails and ringing phones complete the information circuit.
"I have three phone lines: a cell phone, a fax and a modem," says Karyn Buxman, a humorist who helps professionals cope with the information explosion and other stresses of modern life. "I get over 100 e-mails a day, and heaven forbid that I should be away for a day."
Her solution is to periodically delete e-mails that don't look important or not answer the phone at times. Vets don't have that luxury, but there are other coping mechanisms they may be able to use. Most simply require information addicts to set limits on the amount of information they try to digest.
One example would be the Internet, which has millions of Americans hooked on the non-stop flow of information.
"People have actually identified a hypnotic state that occurs when surfing the Internet," says Buxman. "It's almost like an out-of-body experience. People report they lose track of the time and then they say, `Oh, my gosh, I should have been doing something else.'"
Buxman's solution is to strictly limit her time on the Net. "I have a timer next to the computer," she says. "When it goes off, I walk away."
But is a humorist's advice to set limits good for professionals? As it turns out, some of the busiest vets offer very similar advice to deal with the knowledge explosion. They say modern vets must set limits.
For instance, vets often find themselves submerged under a pile of unread scientific journals, which might contain helpful information. With each day, more arrive. Should vets somehow try to find the time to read them all? No, says Jeff Tyler, head of the food animal section at the University of Missouri's vet school.
He says working vets should subscribe to a small number of journals that are relevant to their practice and their clients. And, they should turn to reviews, which are research summaries with practical applications, as a way to get applicable information quickly.
Prioritize The Information Pile Another strategy is to set priorities by asking what types of information are most important, suggests Frank Garry, coordinator of the integrated livestock management program at Colorado State University's vet school.
"Instead of trying to keep up with all the latest information on cloning and other new technologies, determine the few things that are really important and then say, `that's what I'm going to concentrate on,'" Garry suggests.
Still, the best laid strategies don't always work. Unread journals may pile up anyway, creating stress on vets who may feel they ought to read them even though they don't have time.
One way to deal with this is to limit the number of publications you receive and be more selective in reading the ones you do choose to receive, Garry says. In instances when they still pile up unread, he resorts to the waste basket.
"Say there are five of them setting there, and I haven't read a single one. I'll stop, rewind the clock and throw them out. I feel better when I take the time to recognize that I'm getting stressed," he says.
"There's a false perception of how much truly important new information there is," he says. "You get inundated with stuff in the mail. There are more books today. So you end up with this impression that there is an incredible amount of important information. But, not all of that information is salient and useful," he says.
"And, if it's really important in terms of new technology, sooner or later you will find out about it because it will be reiterated. You could read any of five different magazines and get exactly the same thing."
Set Aside Time To Read The flip side of the problem is to find enough time to read the things that are important. If you don't have time, check your schedule and see what you could eliminate or farm out to an assistant or outside business.
Many vets try to do it all. "Vets become their own receptionist, kennel boy and stall maintenance person," says Tyler. "If a licensed veterinarian is doing those activities, he's not being efficient. Don't fix your own truck, don't maintain the yard at your clinic, don't do your own janitorial work."
The other problem is finding a time and place to read. Tyler suggests keeping copies of technical journals in the veterinary truck or other places where vets might find open time. Journals can be read while waiting for an appointment or while waiting to pick up a truck at the repair shop, he says. One Colorado vet had his accompanying interns do the driving to client calls so he could read during the trip.
But, Tyler cautions against reading journals on time that should be reserved for family. "If you take time from your family, you're going to feel guilty about it," he says.
Working vets can't be encyclopedias. There is simply too much to know. But if they can't know everything, they can do the next best thing - keep contact with those who do.
The required equipment is a cell phone and a list of phone numbers taped to the visor of the vet's truck. The phone allows the vets to consult with experts at veterinary schools or elsewhere when there's little time to spare. The calls can be made between appointments or on the way.
"It's a good way to do it if you can find someone who will pick up the phone," says Jeff Tyler, University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. "I would encourage vets to find that university or Extension service whose personnel are accessible for those phone calls."
The Internet, as one of the world's biggest libraries, offers a wealth of information in as many languages as you care to read. The problem is that much of it can't be trusted, and the rest is too much to handle.
"There are good sources out there, but the bulk of them have not gone through peer review," says the University of Missouri's Jeff Tyler. "Those are not trustworthy. You can find Web sites that say magnets cure disease."
However, he adds, there are literature search engines that allow vets to find sites that have undergone scientific peer review. The search engines include Medline, Pubmed and Agricola. Sites include the Network of Animal Health and the Veterinary Information Network. "You have to go to specific source sites that have demonstrated quality rather than doing blind searches," says Tyler.