Trip Database Blog

Liberating the literature


February 2010

GP Education

I had a great meeting yesterday with the medical director of a London Primary Care Trust. We mainly discussed clinical Q&A and part of that was the educational potential of frequently asked questions (FAQs).

We have answered over 10,000 clinical questions of which 6,200+ are available via TRIP Answers. One thing we have noticed is that it is relatively rare to see the same question twice. So, when you do get the same question twice, it’s significant. Our view is that having a question asked frequently indicates that there is probably a widespread knowledge gap in GP-land.

So, why not try and meet the need? The obvious problem is finance, as we want to do it well and therefore it needs funding. But that’s a small detail!!!

What would it look like? Take an example FAQ – Are statins useful in the elderly? I would see the webpage having a number of areas:

  • Background to the question
  • Clinical bottom line
  • Extended material based on the actual answer to the question
  • References
  • Related content
  • Testing component

The last component needs some thought, do you use an MCQ? I’m sure there’s something more sophisticated – but not sure if that’s needed.

So, what have we got? 52 packs (one per week), focussed learning, testing component, certificate to show ‘attainment’.

Now, how to get funding?

The disruptive molecular age of information

I’ve just been reading the above article on the Robert Scoble blog.

In the article he talks about the molecular age of information – he contends we’re currently in the atomic age. He talks about YouTube videos standing alone, each tweet on twitter stands alone. These are all atoms. A user can link these together (to form a molecule) but it takes significant effort and skill.

The molecular age will allow the easy combination of separate elements.

But for me the analogy holds for clinical information. Each article in NEJM or the BMJ is an atom, these can be combined in a systematic review but that takes enormous effort. Similarly, when a clinical question arises the clinician (or information scientist) needs to identify the atoms and bind them together to from the molecule that is an answer. For clinicians, with their clinical background, the merging can be straightforward but the identification of the atoms is problematic. For an information scientist, the opposite is true.

Are there ways we could ease the merging of these atoms to form the molecule (answer)?

I quite like the idea, and have done for years, in cutting up the atoms (documents) into smaller parts (sub-atomic particles). For instance, an atom/article might be 2,000 words long, yet the information the clinician wants might only be 100 words. Is there a way of splitting atoms – creating reactive sub-atomic particles – waiting to easily re-form to create molecules?

As I write this I’m not sure if using the analogy is helpful or instructive. I like it and therefore will reflect and see if it can be utilised further.

Might this all lead to the creation of molecular information scientists?

5,000 registered users

Sometime last night TRIP received its 5,000 registered user – which is a wonderful milestone. This is how long it has taken each 1,000:

  • First 1,000 – 15 days
  • Second 1,000 – 24 days
  • Third 1,000 – 31 days
  • Fourth 1,000 – 37 days
  • Fifth 1,000 – 24 days

A quick analysis of the users show the top 15 countries that registered users come from:

  1. UK
  2. USA
  3. Spain
  4. Canada
  5. Italy
  6. Australia
  7. Ireland
  8. Mexico
  9. India
  10. Peru
  11. Saudi Arabia
  12. Netherlands
  13. Argentina
  14. Columbia
  15. Iran

And the professional breakdown:

  • Doctor/Physician (1448)
  • Nurse (693)
  • Student (607)
  • Other (335)
  • Information specialist (298)
  • Pharmacist (245)
  • Academic researcher (199)
  • Dentist (56)
  • Patient/carer (21)

For those eagle-eyed readers the professionals figures add up to less than 5,000. That’s because, for the first few months the completion of the professional group was optional – so in our records we have >1,000 with no assigned profession!

There are many advantages to signing up to My-TRIP and these revolve around keeping up to date with the latest evidence, recording your use of TRIP for CPD/CME and proof of learning and access to the TRIP/doc2doc forum. Also, searching TRIP while registered means we pay a proportion of advertising income to Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders and HIFA2015. For a full list of the advantages of signing up see our list of key features.

So, if you’re not registered, do it now – it’s a powerful tool and it’s free!

Pulling the information together

Search engines can be strange things. They are principally there to help users, with a gap in their knowledge, gain the information they need. This information may be a phone number, address, opening times, drug interactions.

Needless to say my interest is in clinical uncertainty.

Imagine if search engines were never invented and someone sat down to design a tool that would answer clinical questions. Would anyone really suggest that someone types in a few related terms, hits ‘search’ and then gets presented with 10-20 results that may have the information they’re interested in? It’s laughable really. This is further complicated by the fact that most of the clinical questions we’ve been involved in have needed more than one reference to answer. In our analysis of 350+ dermatology questions the average number of references used was 2.2.

So, the information is in disparate locations and hidden in a mass of other paragraphs (typically the information required is a paragraph or two located somewhere in a document with perhaps 100 paragraphs).

To my mind the ideal solution would be a user, typing in their full question (e.g. what are the causes of raised vitamin b12? as opposed to raised b12) and then they receive a brief response straightaway.

As far as I can tell this is a long way off (although I have seen some half-decent attempts recently). The Q&A services that we run (e.g. TRIP Answers) is another approach but it’s relatively labour intensive. I quite like the approach that Aardvark is using which uses humans to answer the questions. As this wikipedia article states:

“Aardvark is a social search service that connects users live with friends or friends-of-friends who are able to answer their questions. Users submit questions via email or instant messenger and Aardvark identifies and facilitates a live chat or email conversation with one or more topic experts in the asker’s extended social network. Users can also review question and answer history and other settings on the Aardvark website.”

My business partner at TRIP (Chris) a GP says he already knows many of the answers to the questions we receive. He’s always said that if he knows the answer he could return the response in 5 minutes (as opposed to the 60-120 minutes for a relatively easy Q&A for an information specialist).

Perhaps the Aardvark approach is the future – couple people with uncertainty with people who likely know the answer. It requires goodwill, but there’s plenty of that about!

Tools for Practice

Every now and then, when visiting a familiar website you find a new link and it reveals a wealth of new information.

I’ve been regularly visiting the Canadian Towards Optimized Practice (TOP) website when I noticed the link to Clinical Q&A. This has two sections ‘Tools for Practice‘ and ‘Briefcases‘ which I thought would be a great addition to TRIP (we already link to their clinical guidelines). Shortly after an e-mail to the site I end up discussing all things evidence with the head of TOP – Mike Allan. The short-term outcome was an agreement for TRIP to point to the Tools for Practice and Briefcases. To that end I have just added the Tools for Practice to the site and these will be searchable by the start of next week (at the latest).

TRIP and evidence for low resource settings

After talking about it for a while now we’re getting close to launching the new feature on the site. It’s not really got a name, but it’s about crowdsourcing the identification of evidence suitable for low resource settings.

Very soon (in the next week or so) a new link will appear below each search result ‘Low resource’ and registered users will be invited to click on if they think the article is suitable for a resource poor setting. If a document receives more than one click from separate people it’ll qualify for inclusion in a subset of documents in TRIP. At the same time as the link appears below each result a tick box will appear in the results categorisation area (the box on the right-hand side of the results where users can select systematic reviews, guidelines etc) which will allow a user to restrict results to only those documents suitable for low resource environments.

A relatively simple concept, funded by BUPA, that we hope will bring great benefit to users from poorer settings.

The programming has been done and all we require now is to finalise the publicity around the project (to ensure the maximum number of people hear about it) and then we’ll launch.

Another TRIP milestone is just around the corner 🙂

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