Clinical Information Behavior of Rehabilitation Therapists: A Review of the Research on Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Speech-Language Pathologists*

Article excerpt

Objectives: The review sought to synthesize existing research relevant to rehabilitation therapists' clinical information behavior and to identify gaps in evidence, particularly in comparison to what is already known about the information behavior of other health professionals, such as physicians.

Methods: A literature review was conducted of both quantitative and qualitative research studies that included information on the clinical information behavior of occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists. Findings were organized according to a taxonomy of variables derived from the literature.

Results: Findings from seventeen studies, mostly surveys, conducted since 1990 demonstrate that very little is known about the clinical information needs of and information use by rehabilitation therapists. The sources most often consulted by rehabilitation therapists are printed materials (books and journals) and colleagues. Databases are consulted less often, and few rehabilitation therapists are aware of databases other than MEDLINE.

Discussion: Methodological flaws limit the generalizability and validity of much of the research conducted on the clinical information behavior of this population. More research is needed to better understand the clinical questions that arise in rehabilitation therapists' practice, reasons for consulting certain sources, and ways in which information seeking enhances evidence-based practice.


Rehabilitation therapists - including occupational therapists (OTs), physical therapists (PTs, also called physiotherapists), and speech-language pathologists (SLPs, also called speech therapists) - represent a growing proportion of health professionals and are central to health care delivery. As practitioners, rehabilitation therapists engage in information behavior: they identify information needs, decide whether or not to seek answers to these needs, engage in information-seeking behaviors, and then decide how to use information to improve patient care. Even so, rehabilitation therapists are neglected in the literature on information behavior in library and information studies. As a result, little is known about what information needs arise in rehabilitation therapists' everyday practice and how they cope with these needs through information seeking and use. This review synthesizes existing research relevant to rehabilitation therapists' clinical information behavior and identifies gaps, particularly compared to what is known about other health professionals, such as physicians.

More than 10,000 publications from many disciplines have been published on information behavior [1], thousands of which describe research on users [2]. In her review of clinical information-seeking behavior, Marshall remarked that there was very little research on professionals others than physicians [3], and this proportion remains relatively constant to the present day. Case's 2007 book, which summarized theory and research on the subject of information behavior, includes references to hundreds of studies on health care providers [I]. Only 7 studies, however, were included in a single paragraph describing the information behavior of allied health professionals (i.e., other than physicians and nurses). These included research on "dentists, hospital social workers, at-home care providers, midwives, and practitioners of alternative medicine" [I]. Absent from this list was any mention of research studies on rehabilitation therapists. Similarly, in McKnight and Peet's annotated bibliography of health professionals' information behavior, which included 39 studies and 9 reviews published since 1990, only 5 studies fell under the heading "allied health," of which 2 were about rehabilitation therapists [4].

Research on the clinical information behavior of physicians and, to some extent, nurses is clearly well documented, and several narrative and systematic reviews have been published on the topic [3, 5-9]. …