Surveys have shown that mobile devices are being increasingly utilized by clinicians to obtain medical information. Being able to look up a drug dose or a particular exam finding at or near the point of care has several advantages. In many healthcare institutions, resources are increasingly being devoted towards making these mobile tools available to clinicians.

A team of medical librarians from McGill University and the University of Alberta sought to better understand how clinicians are using their mobile devices to find information, with a particular focus on barriers and facilitators as well as current support strategies being employed by health libraries.


An electronic survey was developed and distributed among four Canadian academic centers. Worth noting, is that each center had a website dedicated solely to mobile resources. The survey was developed by a team of medical librarians, with an aim to answer three research questions:

What is the extent to which medical trainees and faculty use their mobile devices when answering clinical questions and finding medical information?

What are the facilitators and barriers to using mobile devices to find information related to medical studies and clinical work?

How do health libraries support mobile users’ clinical information needs?

Results and Conclusion

A total of 1,210 individuals responded to the survey, representing a 6-8% response rate. Some demographic and background information worth noting:

  • 93% owned a mobile device
  • 72% reported owning an iPhone/iPod Touch and 42% an iPad
  • ~30% were students, 30% were residents, and 35% were faculty

As far as resources sought out by the respondents, the results are not terribly surprising.


Of all respondents, 48% reported that they used their mobile devices to access medical resources on a daily basis. What is interesting, though, is that despite such high levels of use, respondents are not really buying a lot of apps for clinical use.


However, when stratified by level of training, they found that medical students and residents not only use their mobile devices more to access medical information (77% on a daily basis) but they also purchase more apps (~30% purchased >5 apps).

In terms of barriers to use, respondents identified several issues. Poor WiFi infrastructure in clinical settings was the most commonly identified problem. Knowing what resources were available was the next most common barrier, cited by 56% of respondents. Another issue of note is that despite all of the institutions having dedicated support sites for mobile medical tools, only 43% of respondents were aware of them.

Accepting that clinicians are using mobile devices to access medical information, these results offer many useful insights that could be applied to developing support systems to promote use of safe and effective tools. Additionally, as the current generation of trainees advance in their careers, medical librarians and informationists will be increasingly called upon to help provide that support.

Reference: Boruff J, Storie D. Mobile Devices in Medicine: a survey of how medical students, residents, and faculty use smartphones and other mobile devices to find information. J Med Lib Assoc. 102(1). 2014 Jan.

Editor Note: This article was updated to reflect that the investigators were from both McGill University and the University of Alberta.