Information Needs and Information-Seeking Behavior of Italian Neurologists: Exploratory Mixed Methods Study

J Med Internet Res. 2020 Apr 8;22(4):e14979. doi: 10.2196/14979.

Abstract

Background: Current medical professions involve an extensive knowledge of the latest validated scientific data to implement disease diagnosis, therapeutic strategies, and patient care. Although clinicians can refer to a growing number and type of information sources to keep current with new scientific achievements, there are still various concerns about medical information validity, quality, and applicability into clinical practice. Novel strategies are required to identify physicians' real-life needs with the final aim to improve modern medical information delivery.

Objective: Our research used an innovative tool to collect real-time physician queries in order to investigate information needs and seeking behavior of Italian neurologists treating patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and migraine.

Methods: The study was designed as an exploratory mixed methods (ie, qualitative and quantitative) study involving 15 consecutive days of observation. A total of 50 neurologists (n=25 MS and n=25 migraine specialists) were recruited. Data were collected using an instant messaging mobile app designed for this research. At each information-seeking event, moderators triggered a computer-assisted personal interview including both semistructured interview and close-ended questions. Interactions and physician queries collected using the mobile app were coded into emerging themes by content analysis.

Results: Neurologist queries were relevant to the following major themes: therapy management (36/50, 71%) and drug-related information (34/50, 67%), followed by diagnostic strategies and procedures (21/50, 42%). Quantitative analysis indicated online resources were preferentially used by clinicians (48/50, 96%) compared with offline sources (24/50, 47%). A multichannel approach, in which both online and offline sources were consulted to meet the same need, was adopted in 33% (65/198) of information-seeking events. Neurologists more likely retrieved information from online relative to offline channels (F=1.7; P=.01). MS specialists were 53% more likely to engage in one information-seeking event compared with migraine neurologists (risk ratio 1.54; 95% CI 1.16-2.05). MS specialists tended to be more interested in patient-related content than migraine clinicians (28% [7/25] vs 10% [2/25], P=.06), who conversely more likely sought information concerning therapy management (85% [21/25] vs 60% [15/25], P=.05). Compared with MS clinicians, migraine specialists had a harder time finding the required information, either looking at online or offline channels (F=12.5; P=.01) and less frequently used offline channels (30% [8/25] vs 60% [15/25] of information-seeking events, P=.02). When multiple sources needed to be consulted to retrieve an information item, a reduced satisfaction rate was observed both among migraine and MS specialists (single source vs multiple sources P=.003).

Conclusions: This study provides a detailed description of real-life seeking behavior, educational needs, and information sources adopted by Italian MS and migraine neurologists. Neurologist information needs and seeking behavior reflect the specific characteristics of the specialty area in which they operate. These findings suggest identification of time- and context-specific needs of clinicians is required to design an effective medical information strategy.

Keywords: information needs; information sources; information-seeking behavior; medical information delivery; migraine; multiple sclerosis; neurologists.