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Study explores family physicians’ requirements for online information

Family physicians, or GP’s, are the first port of call for nearly all questions concerning health or illness. Accordingly, they need to be able to access sources of information which cover as wide a spectrum as possible of the various fields of medicine, but which are also precise enough to be of use in specific individual cases. Together with the Cochrane Collaboration and the University of Freiburg, a team of researchers at FAU have investigated how GP’s access medical information and what they look for in digital material. The systematic review of qualitative and quantitative studies funded by the innovation fund of the Federal Joint Committee as part of the project dealing with well-informed communication between doctors and patients, ‘Gut informierte Kommunikation zwischen Arzt und Patient (GAP)’, has now been published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Until now, academic discourse has merely skimmed the surface of what requirements family physicians have when it comes to digital information sources. During their research, the researchers led by Dr. Pet van der Keylen and Dr. Luca Frank from the Institute of General Practice at FAU focused on the internet, which offers a wealth of knowledge. But how can doctors access the information which is relevant for them?

The team analysed 41 scientific studies to determine the requirements of family physicians. The main problem with obtaining digital content is the notorious lack of time which is part and parcel of their profession. Information has to be easily accessible, concise and to the point. However, quality must not suffer as a result of brevity. The information must be clear, reliable and up to date.

A further requirement for family physicians is that the information must be relevant for their everyday practice and not only for academic or theoretical purposes. The main priorities for online research are that it leads to results which are suitable to help doctors make a decision and that the information is useful for patients.

Doctors also require certain skills. A major obstacle to them making the most of the information which is available is their lack of expertise in dealing with online media and critically assessing the information provided. Sometimes, doctors prefer to discuss cases with colleagues rather than searching online. Further barriers preventing doctors from accessing information on digital platforms are costs, technical requirements and usability.

The researchers came to the conclusion that there is still scope for improvement in the way information of relevance to the work of family physicians is made available in light of the opportunities and chances offered by digitalisation. They therefore believe that, in addition to further research, greater emphasis should be laid on training relevant academic and digital skills at university. At FAU, the Institute of General Practice has offered an elective subject in dealing with evidence-based medicine and digital information for some time now, aimed at enabling future family physicians to take well-founded decisions in their everyday practice.

Further information

DOI: 10.2196/18816

Dr. Piet van der Keylen
Chair of General Practice
Phone: +49 9131 85 44953