How do doctors use information in real-time? A qualitative study of internal medicine resident precepting

Jon C. Tilburt, Susan D. Goold, Nazema Siddiqui, Rajesh S. Mangrulkar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Despite the importance of evidence-based medicine in medical education, little observational research exists on how doctors-in-training seek and use evidence from information resources in ambulatory care. Objective: To describe information exchange behaviour by internal medicine residents and attendings in ambulatory resident clinic precepting rooms. Design: We observed resident behaviour and audiotaped resident-attending doctor interactions during precepting sessions. Participants: Participating residents included 70 of an eligible 89 residents and 28 of 34 eligible attendings from one large academic internal medicine residency programme in the Midwestern USA. Residents were observed during 95 separate precepting interactions at four ambulatory sites. Approach: Using a qualitative approach, we analysed transcripts and field notes of observed behaviours and interactions looking for themes of information exchange. Coders discussed themes which were refined using feedback from an interdisciplinary panel. Results: Four themes of information exchange behaviour emerged: (i) questioning behaviours that were used as part of the communication process in which the resident and attending doctor could reason together; (ii) searching behaviour of non-human knowledge sources occurred in a minority of precepting interations; (iii) unsolicited knowledge offering and (iv) answering behaviours were important means of exchanging information. Conclusions: Most clinic interactions between resident and attending doctors relied heavily on spoken deliberation without resorting to the scientific literature or other published information resources. These observations suggest a range of factors that may moderate information exchange behaviour in the precepting context including relationships, space and efficiency. Future research should aim to more readily adapt information resources to the relationships and practice context of precepting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)772-780
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2007


  • Evidence-based medicine
  • Graduate medical education
  • Information-seeking behaviour
  • Precepting
  • Qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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