How do primary care physicians seek answers to clinical questions? A literature review

J Med Libr Assoc. 2006 Jan;94(1):55-60.


Objectives: The authors investigated the extent to which changes occurred between 1992 and 2005 in the ways that primary care physicians seek answers to clinical problems. What search strategies are used? How much time is spent on them? How do primary care physicians evaluate various search activities and information sources? Can a clinical librarian be useful to a primary care physician?

Methods: Twenty-one original research papers and three literature reviews were examined. No systematic reviews were identified.

Results: Primary care physicians seek answers to only a limited number of questions about which they first consult colleagues and paper sources. This practice has basically not changed over the years despite the enormous increase in and better accessibility to electronic information sources. One of the major obstacles is the time it takes to search for information. Other difficulties primary care physicians experience are related to formulating an appropriate search question, finding an optimal search strategy, and interpreting the evidence found. Some studies have been done on the supporting role of a clinical librarian in general practice. However, the effects on professional behavior of the primary care physician and on patient outcome have not been studied. A small group of primary care physicians prefer this support to developing their own search skills.

Discussion: Primary care physicians have several options for finding quick answers: building a question-and-answer database, consulting filtered information sources, or using an intermediary such as a clinical librarian.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / methods*
  • Information Storage and Retrieval / statistics & numerical data*
  • Internet
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Library Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Online Systems / statistics & numerical data
  • Outsourced Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Periodicals as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reference Books, Medical
  • United States