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Release: July 2, 2001

UI receives grant to help physicians answer patient-care questions

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Health Care researchers have received a $660,000, three-year grant from the National Library of Medicine to develop ways to help physicians more efficiently find quality answers to their patient-care questions. The grant was effective July 1.

A related UI study previously showed that family physicians routinely have questions about patients' conditions and procedures but often do not have the time or resources to find the answers to their questions.

The new grant will help UI investigators find out more specifically what problems hinder doctors in their efforts to find answers to their questions, said John W. Ely, M.D., UI associate professor of family medicine, who will lead the effort.

"We will observe physicians as they try to find answers to their questions. At the same time, we will search for answers -- on the Web and in the library -- to the same questions," Ely said. "The goal will be to document what the problems are, where they occur and which problems seem to be the most important."

The study will involve visits to approximately 30 eastern Iowa physicians, including family doctors, general internists and pediatricians.

Ely said that once information resource problems are identified by type, the team will develop guidelines for writers and other resource providers so that they can provide more useful responses to physicians.

The UI team already has done pilot work for the project. Ely noted that most reference problems involve finding the best place to get the answer.

"It's not always obvious where to find an answer quickly and efficiently," Ely said. "For example, a book might not have good cross-referencing. In addition, it can be difficult to know whether information on the Web is reliable and valid."

Previous UI research found that most physicians have only about two minutes to answer a typical patient-care question so eliminating the need to search multiple places for an answer would aid many doctors.

The team also will study how comprehensive answers should be, such as whether a treatment question should receive a reply that includes not only the name of the best drug to be used but also information on dosage, side effects and interactions.

"Improving how doctors find answers to their questions has the potential to improve patient care," Ely said. "If physicians get better answers to their questions, they will presumably take better care of their patients."

In addition to Ely, UI faculty and staff involved in the study include Donna D'Alessandro, M.D., UI associate professor of pediatrics and developer of the digital library; Dedra Diehl, librarian in family medicine; Chuck Helms, M.D., professor of internal medicine; and Marcy Rosenbaum, Ph.D., assistant professor of family medicine and of the Office of Consultation and Research in Medical Education.

Researchers from Michigan State University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Moses Cones Family Residency Program in North Carolina will also contribute to the investigation.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.