Objective: To test the feasibility of an evidence-based clinical literature search service to help answer general practitioners' (GPs') clinical questions.
Design: Two search services supplied GPs who submitted questions with the best available empirical evidence to answer these questions. The GPs provided feedback on the value of the service, and concordance of answers from the two search services was assessed.
Setting: Two literature search services (Queensland and Victoria), operating for nine months from February 1999.
Main outcome measures: Use of the service; time taken to locate answers; availability of evidence; value of the service to GPs; and consistency of answers from the two services.
Results: 58 GPs asked 160 questions (29 asked one, 11 asked five or more). The questions concerned treatment (65%), aetiology (17%), prognosis (13%), and diagnosis (5%). Answering a question took a mean of 3 hours 32 minutes of personnel time (95% CI, 2.67-3.97); nine questions took longer than 10 hours each to answer, the longest taking 23 hours 30 minutes. Evidence of suitable quality to provide a sound answer was available for 126 (79%) questions. Feedback data for 84 (53%) questions, provided by 42 GPs, showed that they appreciated the service, and asking the questions changed clinical care. There were many minor differences between the answers from the two centres, and substantial differences in the evidence found for 4/14 questions. However, conclusions reached were largely similar, with no or only minor differences for all questions.
Conclusions: It is feasible to provide a literature search service, but further assessment is needed to establish its cost effectiveness.