Chapters & Sections


The role and status of physicians has increased immensely in recent times as individuals and populations live longer and healthier, yet are increasingly concerned about their health and quality of life. Physicians, for right or wrong, are seen as the pinnacle of the systems that contribute to health and well-being so their decisions are of utmost importance. Of course, these decisions are based on information, so the ways physicians perceive, gather, and use information have serious health and wellness ramifications. Physicians’ information behaviours have been (and are) studied extensively so there is a vast literature available that mostly condenses to a few essential points: physicians are individuals yet have some common information behaviour traits, they are barraged by information but have limited time to deal with it, and they prefer familiar and human sources to get that information. While these are not unlike the information behaviours of any other group or individual, physicians and the health care system deal with higher and more immediate stakes than most: sickness-or-health, life-or-death.

Background and Definitions

The subtleties of humans interacting with information, and indeed the concept of information itself, occupy philosophers, theorists, and researchers both out of curiosity and because these interactions are essential to human existence. From this voluminous literature with a myriad of terminological twists and distinctions, Donald Case presents a few simple, base-line definitions:

There are many other terms and concepts related to information behaviour (e.g., decision making, relevance, pertinence, salience, selective exposure, browsing, serendipity, information poverty, and information overload) that may be used in this paper but not necessarily defined; the reader is referred to Case’s excellent book to help sort them out if their sense is not readily apparent.

Information retrieval is explicitly not covered by Case* who feels it has an abundant literature of its own and is really “more about documents (or computer records) than it is about people” (Case 2007, 145). Nevertheless, his glossary defines it thus:

Information retrieval is searching in documents for information, searching for the documents themselves, searching for metadata about documents, or searching using databases (Case 2007, 333).

The above definitions might indicate a clear distinction between seeking (i.e., motivation) and retrieval (i.e., the process of getting), but, in reality, there is much overlap and the two can often not be separated. As to general motivations for seeking information, it is useful to imagine a continuum from “subjective” where information is needed to solve a specific problem, to objective which represents a “vague sense of unease …or anxiety” about lacking some sort of knowledge that might be useful (Case 2007, 76-7).

back to top

* Ironically, the subject index to his book includes “information retrieval” and refers to eleven pages containing this phrase although it only actually appears on three pages.