When I first meet with preclinical medical students, I make a point of asking them what they believe will receive the greatest focus of their attention once they are in clinical practice. The most common response, not surprisingly, is patients, and yet it is clear to experienced practitioners that the correct answer is information—in the service of their patients. The need for information underlies essentially all clinical work: the questions asked during a patient history, the tests ordered, the books read, and the questions asked of colleagues. A key correlate to information is knowledge, that elusive concept that justifies all the years of education and training, and that provides the background sense of what is true that allows gathering and interpreting information appropriately. Clinicians often start with data (eg, “Mr Jones' creatinine is 5.2 mg/dL”), those individual elements that combine to allow a synthesis of observations with what is known in order to create summary statements of information (eg, “Mr Jones has renal failure”).
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