Are More Likely to Be Answered by UpToDate Than PubMed has just been published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. This is proving an interesting journal. Due to the wide coverage I find many articles of little interest, but the occasional gem appears.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the authors conclude:

“Specialists and residents in internal medicine generally use less than 5 minutes to answer patient-related questions in daily care. More questions are answered using UpToDate than PubMed on all major medical topics.”

If you asked 100 information specialists to predict the outcome, I’d be surprised if many would have thought PubMed would do better!

The results were more interesting:

“We analyzed 1305 patient-related questions sent to PubMed and/or UpToDate between October 1, 2005 and March 31, 2007 using our portal. A complete answer was found in 594/1125 (53%) questions sent to PubMed or UpToDate. A partial or full answer was obtained in 729/883 (83%) UpToDate searches and 152/242 (63%) PubMed searches (P < .001). UpToDate answered more questions than PubMed on all major medical topics, but a significant difference was detected only when the question was related to etiology (P < .001) or therapy (P = .002). Time to answer was 241 seconds (SD 24) for UpToDate and 291 seconds (SD 7) for PubMed."

I’d be interested to know if clinicians were satisfied with partial answers. The authors state “Whether an answer is partial or complete is a subjective qualification. We therefore combined partial and full answers when determining significance of our findings” – am I the only one thinking that’s inappropriate? At least give us the results separately as well as combined and let us make draw the conclusions.

Another issue, not restricted to this paper but all papers on Q&A, is the assumption that the clinician knows that they’ve answered the question. They may well have found an answer, but whose to say it’s right?

Anyway, if anyone reads the article, I’d be interested to hear what you make of it.