Background: Patterns in general consumer online search logs have been used to monitor health conditions and to predict health-related activities, but the multiple contexts within which consumers perform online searches make significant associations difficult to interpret. Physician information-seeking behavior has typically been analyzed through survey-based approaches and literature reviews. Activity logs from health care professionals using online medical information resources are thus a valuable yet relatively untapped resource for large-scale medical surveillance.
Objective: To analyze health care professionals' information-seeking behavior and assess the feasibility of measuring drug-safety alert response from the usage logs of an online medical information resource.
Methods: Using two years (2011-2012) of usage logs from UpToDate, we measured the volume of searches related to medical conditions with significant burden in the United States, as well as the seasonal distribution of those searches. We quantified the relationship between searches and resulting page views. Using a large collection of online mainstream media articles and Web log posts we also characterized the uptake of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alert via changes in UpToDate search activity compared with general online media activity related to the subject of the alert.
Results: Diseases and symptoms dominate UpToDate searches. Some searches result in page views of only short duration, while others consistently result in longer-than-average page views. The response to an FDA alert for Celexa, characterized by a change in UpToDate search activity, differed considerably from general online media activity. Changes in search activity appeared later and persisted longer in UpToDate logs. The volume of searches and page view durations related to Celexa before the alert also differed from those after the alert.
Conclusions: Understanding the information-seeking behavior associated with online evidence sources can offer insight into the information needs of health professionals and enable large-scale medical surveillance. Our Web log mining approach has the potential to monitor responses to FDA alerts at a national level. Our findings can also inform the design and content of evidence-based medical information resources such as UpToDate.
Keywords: Internet log analysis; data mining; drug safety surveillance; information-seeking behavior; physicians.