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Ann Fam Med. 2007 Jul-Aug;5(4):345-52.

Information needs and information-seeking behavior of primary care physicians.

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  • 1Servicio Madrileño de la Salud, Madrid, Spain.



The aim of this study was to determine the information needs of primary care physicians in Spain and to describe their information-seeking patterns.


This observational study took place in primary care practices located in Madrid, Spain. Participants were a random stratified sample of 112 primary care physicians. Physicians' consultations were video recorded for 4 hours. Clinical questions arising during the patient visit and the sources of information used within the consultation to answer questions were identified. Physicians with unanswered questions were followed up by telephone 2 weeks later to determine whether their questions had since been answered and the sources of information used. Clinical questions were classified by topic and type of information.


A total of 3,511 patient consultations (mean length, 7.8 minutes) were recorded, leading to 635 clinical questions (0.18 questions per consultation). The most frequent questions were related to diagnosis (53%) and treatment (26%). The most frequent generic type of questions was "What is the cause of symptom x?" (20.5%). Physicians searched for answers to 22.8% of the questions (9.6% during consultations). The time taken and the success rate in finding an answer during a consultation and afterward were 2 minutes (100%) and 32 minutes (75%), respectively.


Primary care physicians working in settings where consultations are of short duration have time to answer only 1 in 5 of their questions. Better methods are needed to provide answers to questions that arise in office practice in settings where average consultation time is less than 10 minutes.

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