Intended for healthcare professionals

Information In Practice

What clinical information do doctors need?

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 26 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1062
  1. Richard Smith (100336.3120{at}, editora
  1. a BMJ, London WC1H 9JR


    Summary points

    • Doctors use some two million pieces of information to manage patients, but little research has been done on the information needs that arise while treating patients

    • Textbooks, journals, and other existing information tools are not adequate for answering the questions that arise: textbooks are out of date, and “the signal to noise” ratio of journals is too low for them to be useful in daily practice

    • Computer systems that have been developed to help doctors are not widely used—perhaps because they have not been developed to meet doctors' information needs

    • When doctors see patients they usually generate at least one question; more questions arise than the doctors seem to recognise

    • Most of the questions concern treatment

    • Many of the questions are highly complex, simultaneously asking about individual patients and particular areas of medical knowledge

    • Often doctors are asking not simply for information but for support, guidance, affirmation, and feedback

    • Many of the questions go unanswered, but most could be answered; it is, however, time consuming and expensive to answer them

    • Doctors are most likely to seek answers to these questions from other doctors

    • The best information sources provide relevant, valid material that can be accessed quickly and with minimal effort

    • New information tools are needed: they are likely to be electronic, portable, fast, easy to use, connected to both a large valid database of medical knowledge and the patient record, and a servant of patients as well as doctors

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