Importance: In making decisions about patient care, clinicians raise questions and are unable to pursue or find answers to most of them. Unanswered questions may lead to suboptimal patient care decisions.
Objective: To systematically review studies that examined the questions clinicians raise in the context of patient care decision making.
Data sources: MEDLINE (from 1966), CINAHL (from 1982), and Scopus (from 1947), all through May 26, 2011. STUDY SELECTION Studies that examined questions raised and observed by clinicians (physicians, medical residents, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, dentists, and care managers) in the context of patient care were independently screened and abstracted by 2 investigators. Of 21,710 citations, 72 met the selection criteria.
Data extraction and synthesis: Question frequency was estimated by pooling data from studies with similar methods.
Main outcomes and measures: Frequency of questions raised, pursued, and answered and questions by type according to a taxonomy of clinical questions. Thematic analysis of barriers to information seeking and the effects of information seeking on decision making. RESULTS In 11 studies, 7012 questions were elicited through short interviews with clinicians after each patient visit. The mean frequency of questions raised was 0.57 (95% CI, 0.38-0.77) per patient seen, and clinicians pursued 51% (36%-66%) of questions and found answers to 78% (67%-88%) of those they pursued. Overall, 34% of questions concerned drug treatment, and 24% concerned potential causes of a symptom, physical finding, or diagnostic test finding. Clinicians' lack of time and doubt that a useful answer exists were the main barriers to information seeking.
Conclusions and relevance: Clinicians frequently raise questions about patient care in their practice. Although they are effective at finding answers to questions they pursue, roughly half of the questions are never pursued. This picture has been fairly stable over time despite the broad availability of online evidence resources that can answer these questions. Technology-based solutions should enable clinicians to track their questions and provide just-in-time access to high-quality evidence in the context of patient care decision making. Opportunities for improvement include the recent adoption of electronic health record systems and maintenance of certification requirements.