Physicians' information needs: analysis of questions posed during clinical teaching

Ann Intern Med. 1991 Apr 1;114(7):576-81. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-114-7-576.


Objective: To describe information requests expressed during clinical teaching.

Setting: Residents' work rounds, attending rounds, morning report, and interns' clinic in a university-based general medicine service.

Subjects: Attending physicians, medical house staff, and medical students in a general medicine training program.

Methods: An anthropologist observed communication among study subjects and recorded in field notes expressions of a need for information. We developed a coding scheme for describing information requests and applied the coding scheme to the data recorded. Based on assigned codes, we created a subset of strictly clinical requests.

Measurements: Five hundred nineteen information requests recorded during 17 hours of observed clinical activity were selected for detailed analysis. These requests related to the care of approximately 90 patients by 24 physicians and medical students. Sixty-five requests were excluded because they were not strictly clinical, leaving a subset of 454 clinical questions for analysis.

Main results: On average, five clinical questions were raised for each patient discussed. Three hundred thirty-seven requests (74%) concerned patient care. Of these 337 questions, 175 (52%) requested a fact that could have been found in a medical record. Seventy-seven (23%) of these questions, motivated by the needs of patient care, were potentially answerable by a library, a textbook, a journal, or MEDLINE. Eighty-eight (26%) of the questions asked for patient care required synthesis of patient information and medical knowledge.

Conclusions: Clinicians in the study settings requested information frequently. Many of these information needs required the synthesis of patient information and medical knowledge and thus were potentially difficult to satisfy. A typology is proposed that characterizes information needs as consciously recognized, unrecognized, and currently satisfied.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical*
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Information Services*
  • Internship and Residency
  • Libraries, Medical
  • Medical Records
  • Periodicals as Topic
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Textbooks as Topic