Introduction: Although physician Internet use patterns have been studied, little attention has been paid to how current physician learning and change theories relate to physician Internet information seeking and on-line learning behaviors. The purpose of this study was to examine physician medical information-seeking behaviors and their relevance to continuing education (CE) providers who design and develop on-line CE activities.
Methods: A survey concerning Internet use and learning was administered by facsimile transmission to a random sample of 2,200 U.S. office-based physicians of all specialties.
Results: Nearly all physicians have access to the Internet, know how to use it, and access it for medical information; the Internet's professional importance to physicians currently is in the area of professional development and information seeking to provide better care rather than for patient-physician communication. A particular patient problem was the most common reason for seeking information. The credibility of the source, quick and 24-hour access to information, and ease of searching were most important to physicians. Barriers to use included too much information to scan and too little specific information to respond to a defined question.
Discussion: The importance of the Internet to physician professional development is growing rapidly. Access to on-line continuing medical education must be immediate, relevant, credible, and easy to use. A sense of high utility demands content that is focused and well indexed. The roles of the CE provider must be reshaped to include helping physicians seek and construct the kind of knowledge they need to improve patient care.