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Academia and the Profession |

Physicians' Information Needs: Analysis of Questions Posed during Clinical Teaching

Jerome A. Osheroff, MD; Diana E. Forsythe, PhD; Bruce G. Buchanan, PhD; Richard A. Bankowitz, MD; Barry H. Blumenfeld, MD; and Randolph A. Miller, MD
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

Grant Support: In part by National Library of Medicine (NLM) UMLS contract N01-LM-8-3514. Drs. Osheroff and Blumenfeld were funded in part by NLM Training Grant T 15 LM 07059. Dr. Miller's work was supported in part by NLM Research Career Development Award K04-LM-00084.

Requests for Reprints: Jerome Osheroff, MD, Section of Medical Informatics, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, B50A Lothrop Hall, 190 Lothrop Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261.

Current Author Addresses: Drs. Osheroff, Bankowitz, and Miller: Section of Medical Informatics, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, B50A Lothrop Hall, 190 Lothrop Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261.

Drs. Forsythe and Buchanan: Intelligent Systems Laboratory, Department of Computer Science, University of Pittsburgh, Mineral Industries Building 205, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.

Dr. Blumenfeld: CAMDAT Corporation, Suite 317 Birmingham Towers, 2100 Wharton Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203.


©1991 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1991;114(7):576-581. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-114-7-576
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Objective: To describe information requests expressed during clinical teaching.

Setting: Residents' work rounds, attending rounds, morning report, and interns' clinic in a university-based general medicine service.

Subjects: Attending physicians, medical house staff, and medical students in a general medicine training program.

Methods: An anthropologist observed communication among study subjects and recorded in field notes expressions of a need for information. We developed a coding scheme for describing information requests and applied the coding scheme to the data recorded. Based on assigned codes, we created a subset of strictly clinical requests.

Measurements: Five hundred nineteen information requests recorded during 17 hours of observed clinical activity were selected for detailed analysis. These requests related to the care of approximately 90 patients by 24 physicians and medical students. Sixty-five requests were excluded because they were not strictly clinical, leaving a subset of 454 clinical questions for analysis.

Main Results: On average, five clinical questions were raised for each patient discussed. Three hundred thirty-seven requests (74%) concerned patient care. Of these 337 questions, 175 (52%) requested a fact that could have been found in a medical record. Seventy-seven (23%) of these questions, motivated by the needs of patient care, were potentially answerable by a library, a textbook, a journal, or MEDLINE. Eighty-eight (26%) of the questions asked for patient care required synthesis of patient information and medical knowledge.

Conclusions: Clinicians in the study settings requested information frequently. Many of these information needs required the synthesis of patient information and medical knowledge and thus were potentially difficult to satisfy. A typology is proposed that characterizes information needs as consciously recognized, unrecognized, and currently satisfied.

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