Objectives: To characterize the information needs of family physicians by collecting the questions they asked about patient care during consultations and to classify these in ways that would be useful to developers of knowledge bases. - Design: An observational study in which investigators visited physicians for two half-days and collected their questions. Taxonomies were developed to characterize the clinical topic and generic type of information sought for each question. - Setting: Easter Iowa. - Participants: Random sample of 103 family physicians. - Main outcome measures: Number of questions posed, pursued, and answered; topic and generic type of information sought for each question; time spent pursuing answers; and information resources used. - Results: Participants asked a total of 1,101 questions. Questions about drug prescribing, obstetrics and gynecology, and adult infectious disease were most common, comprising 36% of the total. The taxonomy of generic questions included 69 categories; the three most common types, comprising 24% of all questions, were 'What is the cause of symptom X?' 'What is the dose of drug X?' and 'How should I manage disease or finding X?' Answers to most questions (n = 702 [64%]) were not immediately pursued, but of those pursued, most (n = 318 [80%]) were answered. Physicians spent an average of less than 2 minutes pursuing an answer, and they used readily available print and human resources. Only two questions led to a formal literature search. - Conclusions: Family physicians in this study did not pursue answers to most of their questions. Questions about patient care can be organized into a limited number of generic types, which could help guide the efforts of knowledge-base developers.
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