ASIS&T 2005 START ConferenceManager    

Work Roles, Tasks and the Information Behavior of Dentists

Carol F. Landry

Sparking Synergies: Bringing Research and Practice Together @ ASIST '05 (ASIS&T 2005)
Westin Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 28 - November 2, 2005


Little occurs in the practice of dentistry that is not related in some way to obtaining synthesizing and applying information. The need for information can be prompted by one or more tasks associated with the work roles private practice dentists assume on any given day: patient management/treatment provider, student, educator, practice manager/administrator, or researcher. To determine if work roles affect the choice of information sources used, Leckie, Pettigrew and Sylvain’s (1996) general model of professionals’ information seeking was used to guide interviews with twelve private practice dentists from the metropolitan area of Everett, Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. Dentists were presented with five distinct vignettes with each scenario representing a work role task. Additionally, follow-up interviews were administered to investigate if dentists were using the Internet to locate practice-related information, how the Internet was used in combination with traditional resources, and the key reasons for choosing the Internet as an information source. Although healthcare professionals have been widely studied (Verhoeven, Boema & Meyboom-deJong, 1995; Haug, 1997), little research has focused specifically on dentists. More importantly, little is know about the effect information technology and the electronic environment has had on the information behavior of dentists.

Preliminary results suggest that dentists’ preferred resources differed with each work role associated task. The “patient manager/treatment provider” favored textbooks as the primary source for information while the “student” and the “educator” looked to dental associations and professional organizations. The “practice manager” sought out vendors and the “researcher” chose professional journals and colleagues equally. However, the Internet played a larger role as a subsequent resource. It would be employed as a starting point for developing a rudimentary information framework as well as the means to cross reference information obtained from traditional sources such as textbooks and colleagues. The Internet is also viewed as a means to attain up-to-date information in a timely and convenient manner, but is recognized as having relevancy and credibility problems. Furthermore, Internet searches resulted in an overload of irrelevant information typically due to users’ inferior searching abilities.

Dentists desire reliable and trustworthy information in the most expedient manner and they look to the Internet to provide this. The implications are that dentists want to use the Internet as an information resource, yet they need to develop the skills to use it effectively. Improving searching abilities is a necessity for dentists, yet developing the skill to critically analyze obtained data may prove to be more important for these healthcare professionals.


Haug, J.D. (1997). Physicians’ preferences for information sources: A meta-analytic study. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 85(3), 223-232.

Leckie, G. J., Pettigrew, K. E., & Sylvain, C. (1996). Modelling the information seeking of professionals: A general model derived from research on engineers, health care professionals, and lawyers. Library Quarterly, 66.2, 161-193.

Verhoeven, A.A., Boerma, E.J. & Meyboom-deJong, B. (1995). Use of information sources by family physicians: A literature survey. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, 83(1), 85-90.

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