Facilitating Physician Access to Medical Reference Information.

Philip Bellman, MPH; Carol Havens, MD; Ysabel Bertolucci, MLS; Beth Streeter, MPH

Fall 2005 - Volume 9 Number 4



Context: Computer-based medical reference information is augmenting--and in some cases, replacing--many traditional sources. For Kaiser Permanente (KP) physicians, this change presents both advantages and obstacles to finding medical reference information.
Objective: To improve understanding of physician information-seeking behavior and the barriers that limit use of both print-based and computer-based medical reference resources.
Design: During 2002 and 2003, two quality-improvement surveys were distributed to full-time KP physicians. Survey instruments sent by conventional mail and by e-mail were based on results of telephone interviews and focus groups, and were designed to be concise and easy to use. Participant response rates exceeded 83%.
Outcomes Measures: The surveys examined physician use of online medical reference information, medical libraries and services, self-directed learning resources, and continuing medical education (CME).
Results: Of the physicians who responded to the survey, 89% used online resources frequently to enhance care, to inform clinical decisions, to update knowledge, to educate patients, or for a combination of these purposes. Compared with responses from older physicians, responses from younger physicians showed a greater proclivity for using nearly all types of online information. Most physicians obtained CME credits primarily through in-person education programs; few physicians used self-directed electronic learning tools. Obstacles to effective access to information included lack of time, overly complex access methods, and lack of awareness about available resources.
Conclusions: A considerable gap exists between physicians' need for information and the resources currently available for delivering this information. Although we observed a clear shift from using printed medical references to using computer-based resources, many barriers prevent their effective use. Clinicians need easy-to-use, seamless systems of medical reference information that are accessible remotely anytime.


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