Physicians overwhelmed by the amount of reading needed to stay current with clinical advancements, study finds

Doctors have a keen interest in learning about new clinical trials and innovative treatments but struggle to keep on top of every new piece of information.

A report published today by Doximity revealed physician learning preferences regarding the increasingly expansive mountain of medical literature published every year.

The online networking service for medical professionals surveyed 600 physicians across five specialties: oncology, neurology, cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology. Doximity pointed to the ever-increasing rate of medical innovation as simultaneously driving physician interest in new data and physician frustration in the inability to keep up with the most innovative treatments.

Other report takeaways emphasized the need for online and dynamic engagement, a unique challenge for oncologists and an interest in the ongoing bias in clinical trials and system-based care.

“It’s a double-edged sword, to be clear; no one’s going to argue against the virtues of advancement in clinical care,” said Amit Phull, M.D., senior vice president of strategy at Doximity and emergency care physician in Chicago. “We all want to ideally cure a bunch of these issues. That being said, in a workforce environment when there are physical and realistic constraints on how much information people can consume and apply to their practice, there has to be some kind of balance or some application of filtering or technology to make it so that we don’t burn out this workforce that’s already burnt out.”

Doximity found that 95% of physicians surveyed expressed interest in learning about new trials, treatments or procedures; however, 7 out of 10 felt overwhelmed by the amount of information.

Physicians expressed an interest in receiving primarily specialty-specific treatment information and research updates through digital means.

A 2011 study mapped out that medical knowledge has been expanding exponentially in the past several decades. The study published in Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association found that in 1950, the doubling time for medical knowledge was 50 years; in 1980, 7 years; in 2010, 3 years; and in 2020 the doubling time was predicted to be a daunting 73 days.

Just this year, a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, came to the conclusion that if a primary care provider practiced up to date with the latest guidelines they would have to practice medicine for nearly 27 hours a day. Phull says that’s a part of physician burnout.

“When you are that much behind in terms of just feeling like you’re practicing up to date with the clinical science and you have all these other externalities that complicate your workflow, in my experience, that creates a not-so-virtuous cycle,” Phull said.

In his experience, Phull sees physicians vetting the influx of information through peer-to-peer recommendations. While in years past, this could take place in hallway consultations, he sees these interactions happening less with recent scheduling trends.

Enters Doximity: an asynchronous place for connection and collaboration. He also touts Doximity’s videos summarizing recent literature. Of course, he encourages providers to earmark the long-form study for when they have the time, but videos or audio format articles can allow physicians to digest information on the go.

Is Phull able to go back to the long form of those studies? Yes, he says, when he has the time.

“A lot of the medical content inherently is long-form, often quite dry, difficult and requires active reading,” Phull said. “A lot of the work that Doximity tries to do is lead on that prompt to providing examples of brevity being possible and brevity through the use of multimedia being additive. Physicians learn how to learn by reading journal articles and reading book chapters; it's very difficult to do that at the point of care. We’re beginning to prove that you can leverage technology to leverage that gap.”

Physicians also are concerned about potential bias in the clinical trial studies they were able to read, according to the survey.

Seventy percent expressed a desire for information on clinical trials, treatments and procedures that reflect the diversity of their patients; 60% reported interest in geographic-specific information including local educational events and clinical trial location sites.

Out of the five targeted specialties, oncologists expressed the greatest interest in clinical trials reflecting their patient base. As one of the fastest-growing specialties, investigative treatments targeting cancer nearly quadrupled between 2010 and 2020. Along with sicker patients requiring immediate care, Phull thinks this accounts for a specific acute strain on oncologists.

Across all specialties when learning about new treatments, 66% of physicians reported an interest in learning about insurance coverage and 95% wanted to review clinical guidelines.

“I think that statistic actually reflects the fact that separate from just the science bit, the information that we are already overwhelmed with,” Phull said. “There’s just this impractical or logistical element to the operations of medicine that are not growing necessarily but certainly changing just as rapidly as the science bit. And it's another body of information that I think many providers, myself included, would say we’re not 100% comfortable with, so any update that’s pertinent to my patient population or my practice, that’s a godsend because it’s a very practical bit of information for my patients.”

Further reflecting a “systems-based approach” to medicine, nearly three out of four physicians reported interest in learning about patient resources.