ing, processing, and retrieving needed information. It then becomes important to fully understand the information needs of health professionals so that the correct information is collected and stored in an accessible manner. Thus, the ability to define the information needs of health professionals (although not well-studied) is essential to the development of systems that will support their needs.

Why Health Professionals Need Information

The information needs of health professionals stem from a variety of factors including patient care, patient education, professional curiosity, and research. Additionally, the rapid advancements in technology and science have expanded the knowledge base in all fields of medicine and health care.

In 1991, Osheroff and colleagues developed a typology that assesses the information needs of health professionals, specifically physicians, by analyzing the questions posed during clinical teaching. They concluded that information needs are driven by the extent of a patient's problem, a patient's inquiry, the professional's knowledge base, and his or her level of awareness of available resources and curiosity to find out more information. The study defined the information needs of health professionals in terms of three components: (1) information that is needed for decision making and that is already known by the health professional (currently satisfied needs); (2) information that is not known by the health professional but that he or she recognizes as being applicable to the decision-making process (consciously recognized needs); and (3) information that is important to the circumstances at hand but that the health professional does not realize is applicable (unrecognized needs) (Osheroff et al., 1991).

Williams and colleagues (1992) categorized the information needs of health professionals by the reason that health professionals begin their search for information, to:

  • confirm or disconfirm existing knowledge;

  • assist in solving a new or unfamiliar health care problem;

  • update basic knowledge on a topic through review;

  • obtain information from another specialty when dealing with a patient or person with multiple problems;

  • highlight particular patient care concerns to other members of the health care team;

  • find out about a rare or unusual patient care problem;

  • determine whether a knowledge gap exists in the literature and whether a new research project or publication should be planned; or

  • assist in implementing new administrative or organizational initiatives.

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