Obtaining and managing clinically relevant information constitutes a major problem for physicians, for which the development of automated tools is often proposed as a solution. However, designing and implementing appropriate automated solutions presumes knowledge of physicians' information needs. We describe an empirical study of information needs in four clinical settings in internal medicine in a university teaching hospital. In contrast to the retrospective data often used in previous studies, this research used ethnographic techniques to facilitate direct observation of communication about information needs. On the basis of this experience, we address two main issues: how to identify and interpret expressions of information needs in medicine and how to broaden our conception of "information needs" to account for the empirical data.