Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom Continuum
Information technology is transforming the health care field with a plethora of new tools, software, and devices. This transformation has especially affected nurses, which is why health care information technology is often referred to as “nursing informatics.”
Nursing informatics is used in practice settings to help organize and apply data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. The continuum of data, information, knowledge, and wisdom shows how nurses use facts to make decisions and provide care. This continuum provides insight for how nursing informatics contribute to different levels of understanding, decision-making, and evidence-based practice.
The lowest level on the continuum is data. The term “data” refers to discrete sets of details related to a specific situation, patient, or population. You can think of data as isolated islands of facts that any observer would be able to view and objectively identify.
The next level on the continuum, directly above data, is information. Information is the result of processing and organizing data into more manageable structures, and interpreting the meanings of individual data points. Information systems, such as electronic health records (EHRs), compile data and support nurses at the information level of the continuum.
After information, the next level up is knowledge. Knowledge arises when information is synthesized into formal relationships and interconnections. Knowledge involves recognizing patterns and abnormalities based on separate sets of information. Nursing informatics that operate at the knowledge level are called decision-support systems.
Finally, the highest level of the continuum is wisdom. Wisdom is the application of knowledge to addressing clinical problems and complex patient health issues with compassion and regard for ethics and quality of life.
Let’s explore a clinical example of how data, information, knowledge, and wisdom build on each other. Consider a 48-year-old male patient of average height who is slightly overweight. The patient’s recent blood test indicates that he has impaired glucose tolerance and slightly high cholesterol. All of these initial facts about the patient represent data.
The nurse discusses the results of the blood test with the patient, and invites him to return for a follow-up visit. The second blood test indicates higher glucose levels and the same high cholesterol. These serialized blood test results represent information.
The nurse then takes this information, refers to the patient’s electronic health record, and discovers that the patient has a family history of diabetes. This data, added to the information from the blood tests, allows the nurse to determine that the patient has type 2 diabetes. This diagnosis is knowledge.
Finally, the nurse uses wisdom to determine the most appropriate strategy for addressing this patient’s diabetes. Because the patient does not have a personal history with diabetes and is relatively young, the nurse discusses lifestyle interventions to manage his glucose levels. If after six months, the patient’s glucose is not within the normal range, the nurse and the physician will consider medications and other treatment options.
This example illustrates the flow from data to information, information to knowledge, and knowledge to wisdom. It also demonstrates how nurses apply this continuum in their everyday practices and how informatics can play an important role.