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An introduction to data and information in health and social care
An introduction to data and information in health and social care

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2.2 Data and information

So far in the course, you have seen two words in connection with computers: data and information. Did you see any differences in the way the two terms have been used? Here is one difference.

Data refers to discrete bits of information, such as the price of an item on the shelf of a supermarket, or a patient’s temperature at a moment in time. The word ‘data’ is a plural Latin word, but it is generally used as a singular word in English.

In contrast, information involves linking together two or more items of data to provide an item of knowledge. If someone suddenly said to you, ‘38 °C’, you’d be a bit puzzled. However, being told, ‘The patient’s temperature is 38 °C’, would convey information. In other words, information can be thought of as the answer to a question such as: ‘What is the patient’s temperature?’ So, the words ‘38 °C’ said in connection with nothing would mean little, but stated in answer to the above question would convey information or knowledge.

The distinction made here between data and information may seem fuzzy. One person’s data could be another’s information (as you will see later in this course). But for now, please work with the simple definitions given above.