Background: Answering clinical questions arising from patient care can improve that care and offers an opportunity for adult learning. It is also a vital component in practising evidence-based medicine. GPs' sources of in-consultation information can be human or non-human (either hard copy or electronic).
Objectives: To establish the prevalence and associations of GP trainees' in-consultation information-seeking, and to establish the prevalence of use of different sources of information (human, hard copy and electronic) and the associations of choosing particular sources.
Methods: A cross-sectional analysis of data (2010-13) from an ongoing cohort study of Australian GP trainees' consultations. Once each 6-month training term, trainees record detailed data of 60 consecutive consultations. The primary outcome was whether the trainee sought in-consultation information for a problem/diagnosis. Secondary outcomes were whether information-seeking was from a human (GP, other specialist or other health professional) or from a non-human source (electronic or hard copy), and whether a non-human source was electronic or hard copy.
Results: Six hundred forty-five trainees (response rate 94.3%) contributed data for 84,723 consultations including 131,583 problems/diagnoses. In-consultation information was sought for 15.4% (95% confidence interval=15.3-15.6) of problems/diagnoses. Sources were: GP in 6.9% of problems/diagnoses, other specialists 0.9%, other health professionals 0.6%, electronic sources 6.5% and hard-copy sources 1.5%. Associations of information-seeking included younger patient age, trainee full-time status and earlier training stage, longer consultation duration, referring the patient, organizing follow-up and generating learning goals. Associations of choosing human information sources (over non-human sources) were similar, but also included the trainee's training organization. Associations of electronic rather than hard-copy information-seeking included the trainee being younger, the training organization and information-seeking for management rather than diagnosis.
Conclusion: Trainee information-seeking is mainly from GP colleagues and electronic sources. Human information-sources are preferentially sought for more complex problems, even by these early-career GPs who have trained in the 'internet era'.
Keywords: Australia; evidence-based medicine; family practice; general practitioners; information seeking behaviour; internet; internship and residency; primary health care..
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