Monday, December 14, 2015

Human Interaction Eases Data Overload

There is so much information available now, it’s amazing that our heads don’t explode on a daily basis. For almost anything you want to learn about you can find sources of information in multiple formats, including books, magazines, research studies, and videos. Most of it is available at your fingertips through the Internet. There is more information available now than at any other time in history, and the democratic distribution of it through technology is turning the notion of expertise on its head, as lay people have access to the same information as the specialists. But as amazing as technology is at leveling the playing field and providing vast amounts of information to any anyone who seeks it, technology cannot fully take the place of face-to-face interaction. To rely solely on data and to miss out on human interaction is a mistake that can blow your mind.

Doing research online is a one-way conversation. You can quickly fall down a rabbit hole by clicking link after link. You may be gathering lots of information, but it can be a challenge to figure out what pieces of data are important for your needs, and which are distractions. Any question you ask Google will return dozens, if not hundreds, of hits. Most of them will not be relevant for you, yet you’ll have to figure out which are meaningful on your own. This type of research is important when you need to learn about a health-related issue, but at some point you’ll have to pull away from the online information trove and speak about your needs to a real person. Not moving forward to the face-to-face interaction phase can be an avoidance technique that can keep you from getting the help you need. In the case of a serious illness, like cancer, this can be costly indeed.  

If you want to get really scared by learning about worst-case scenarios, go look up a health problem on the Internet. Have you ever done a search, clicked on a link that sounded promising, and were horrified by what popped up? There is no way to prescreen what will appear on your computer monitor when you click that link. Sometimes the information is helpful, but sometimes it will inspire fear that can immobilize you from taking action. Having someone to talk to about what you’re finding in your research can give much needed perspective. Whether you are participating in a class, a support group, or meeting one-on-one with someone who can help you navigate your healthcare needs, discussing what you are learning with other people can be a helpful, and necessary, reality check.

It’s easy to get caught up in believing you need to know everything you can in order to make a good healthcare decision. The insurance industry and healthcare industry both push for patients to be informed consumers of healthcare, but how much information is enough? The fact is, you won’t be able to know as much as your doctor knows about certain things unless you go to medical school, too. That’s why we rely on doctors, after all. You need to know enough to have a knowledgeable conversation about the options available to you, and the risks and benefits of the various options. Once you have that basis of knowledge, you need to seek out the people who can help you implement a plan of action. That means interviewing doctors and having conversations with people in the real world.

It all comes down to relationships. Healthcare is better when it’s provided by people you know, like, and trust. That trust comes from person-to-person interaction. The same way that internet searches link you from one piece of information to another, each person you meet connects you to others to find the support you need. At the same time the volume of information available has grown, the number of people who have expertise in sorting through that information has grown too. You don’t have to figure it out alone. Once you have some basic knowledge under your belt, your time can be used more effectively by talking with people who can guide you to your next step.

Keep your head about you by balancing online research with real-world interactions. Get out from behind your computer and talk to people! 

Michal Klau-Stevens is a professional speaker and healthcare consumer advocate. She is a pregnancy coach and expert on consumer healthcare care issues, Past President of BirthNetwork National, a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and mother.  Her website is TheBirthLady.INFO. Find her on LinkedIn and on Facebook at The Birth Lady page!


  1. Good article, Michal. You're right. It does come down to relationships.

  2. Agreed, too much information can be almost as bad as too little. And if we are sorting through information for our own conditions, emotions will color our perceptions. The Internet, books, and articles can be helpful to an extent, but they cannot replace human relationships.