To Answer Patient Questions, Physicians Turn to New Information Sources

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In a recent survey, physicians identified peer-reviewed journal articles, continuing medical education, evidence-based guidelines, and national experts as the most useful sources of information to stay current on therapeutic advances.

In this era of social media and smartphones, the ability to share information on any number of topics has increased, and one area that is continually developing better ways to communicate is the healthcare field.

In a recent issue of The Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, Gregory D. Salinas, PhD, of CE Outcomes, LLC, in Birmingham, AL, described the research he conducted to learn about the sources where practicing physicians prefer to get their information — a topic of great interest to policy makers, educators, and marketing professionals.

To do so, Salinas employed a survey instrument that was distributed to 1,206 practicing physicians in several specialties in 2013. All of the physicians were actively practicing in the US and primarily employed in solo or group private practices in the fields of dermatology, family medicine, gastroenterology, hematology/oncology, infectious disease/hepatology, internal medicine, neurology, pain medicine, psychiatry, rheumatology, and urology.

According to Salinas, the physicians identified peer-reviewed journal articles, continuing medical education (CME), evidence-based guidelines, and national experts as the most useful sources of information to stay current on therapeutic advances. However, Salinas noted that many peer-reviewed articles are not easily deciphered for clinical application, and physicians often rely on abstracts for the sake of time. Fortunately, guidelines often translate research findings to clinical implementation for busy physicians.

The surveyed physicians indicated non-CME promotional meetings, pharmaceutical sales representatives, and managed care organizations were of the least use and carried the least amount of influence in their practices, which Salinas said confirmed that credibility influences information-seeking behavior. Acknowledging this trend, pharmaceutical firms cut their sales force by 40% between 2006 and 2011, and they currently use electronic media more often, Salinas noted.

In the survey, the physicians reported receiving an average of 15 clinical questions from patients in 2013, which was more than double the average of 6 they reported to receive in 2009. They also spent more time on the Internet researching answers to those questions last year, though they are utilizing a larger pool of resources to find such medical information, including grand rounds, local meetings, journals, webcasts, online courses, and, to a lesser extent, blogs and wikis.

In his conclusion, Salinas suggested that the creators of continuing medical education have failed to employ available technological resources when designing new programs. He also noted that social media as a source of medical information is just beginning to find its niche, and its true value will be determined in the future.

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