Background: Physicians must be able to rapidly obtain information that answers specific patient-related clinical questions. This study describes the information-seeking process in the office practices of family physicians.
Methods: We observed and recorded the information-seeking and information-obtaining behavior of 30 family physicians in their offices.
Results: Based on 172 hours of observation and 602 patient visits, family physicians sought answers to an average of only one clinical question for every 15 patients seen. Urban physicians sought answers to more questions than rural physicians (one question for every 9 patients, as compared with one question for every 24 patients; P less than .05). The frequency of seeking information was not related to the physician's age. Busier physicians (those seeing more patients per hour) tended to ask fewer questions (correlation coefficient (r) = -.34, P = .06). Drug-prescribing questions were the most common type; second most common were orthopedic questions. Colleagues and the Physicians' Desk Reference were the most often used resources. Eight percent of the questions were not answered.
Conclusions: Among family physicians, patient-related questions are infrequently asked and highly specific. Most questions are rapidly answered using colleagues and books, not journals or computers.