Background: Using technology to access clinical information has become a critical skill for family physicians. The aims of this study were to assess the way family physicians use the Internet to look for clinical information and how their patterns vary from those of specialists. Further, we sought a better understanding of how family physicians used just-in-time information in clinical practice.
Methods: A fax survey was provided with 17 items. The survey instrument, adapted from two previous studies, was sent to community-based physicians. The questions measured frequency of use and importance of the Internet, palm computers, Internet CME, and email for information seeking and CME. Barriers to use were explored. Demographic data was gathered concerning gender, years since medical school graduation, practice location, practice type, and practice specialty.
Results: Family physicians found the Internet to be useful and important as an information source. They were more likely to search for patient oriented material than were specialists who more often searched literature, journals and corresponded with colleagues. Hand held computers were used by almost half of family physicians.
Conclusion: Family physicians consider the Internet important to the practice of medicine, and the majority use it regularly. Their searches differ from colleagues in other specialties with a focus on direct patient care questions. Almost half of family physicians use hand held computers, most often for drug reference.