Objective: To compare the self-reported information needs of rural and nonrural primary care physicians.
Design and participants: Mail survey of active non-academic primary care physicians.
Data collection: A 60 item questionnaire regarding 1) demographic and practice setting data; 2) medical information needs; 3) medical knowledge resource availability and use; and 4) physician information seeking behavior.
Main results: The response rate was higher among rural than non-rural physicians (55% vs. 42%, p< 0.001) and among Family Physicians than others (Family Medicine 53%, Internal Medicine 43%, Pediatrics 48%, p=0.015.) Rural physicians reported working more hours per week (45.3 vs. 42.7, p=0.033,) and seeing more patients per day (24.6 vs. 22.3, p=0.005) than their nonrural counterparts. Both groups reported a median of about 1 question for every 10 patients they see, with great variance among responses. Both groups reported pursuing answers to about 57% of their questions, and finding answers to about 70% of those they pursue. Knowledge resource preferences of the two groups were similar. Both groups reported frequent use of consultants, drug compendia, colleagues, and textbooks, and little use of library- or computer-based sources. Compared to nonrural physicians, rural physicians reported less frequent use of consultants, colleagues, librarians, and bound journals. These differences were small, and paralleled differences in availability. The two groups had equal access to textbooks and drug compendia, but for rural physicians, other resources were locally available significantly less often.
Conclusions: Rural and nonrural primary care physicians reported equal information needs, similar information seeking, and similar resource preferences. Rural physicians reported less access to some information resources, but little difference in use of resources. Further studies are needed to determine how these differences impact rural practitioners and their patients.