Phrases like lifelong learning and continuing professional education are in common usage by healthcare professionals. There seems to be an acceptance that learning continues throughout professional careers. But the question for this post is, where do these professionals find their new knowledge to keep learning? Do they learn from printed or electronic resources or from each other? Are there other ways they look for and receive knowledge?
There is a strong argument that daily learning is most often related to needing immediate solutions to patient care – sometimes called just-in-time learning. It seems that peers provide this information most reliably. Nurses reported that they informally asked each other questions because their peers were helpful and supportive and they provided information that was relevant and practical. They often did not have time to find experts and many perceived that higher status professionals are less accessible and more unapproachable. I suspect this sort of collegial checking is extremely popular across the healthcare professions. In many instances, this social interaction and shared experiential knowledge is likely to be complementary. However, when there are inconsistencies between people, then maybe the research evidence could be a good arbitrator.
The alternative of looking up clinical questions using paper or electronic texts is something that is advocated in evidence-based health care courses, but is less often implemented. It has been suggested that only 30% of clinical questions are ever answered in this way. Major barriers of time, access and ability to interpret research evidence seem to limit these behaviours. However, there is some evidence that handheld computers make looking for information easier.
Perhaps it is important to investigate what knowledge healthcare professionals need in their normal clinical routines, and collate popular sources of information to learn about where they look for and receive information, and how they use it? If we can understand these patterns, we might be able to disseminate and integrate research evidence, where it is most likely to be used..