Scan, don’t read

Interviewing doctors about their news habits

Juan Valera
Medicine for Mortals


A heatmap on the web (

Doctors (clinicians and physicians) are at the heart of a patient’s care team. When patients are most in need, they turn to their doctors for help and educated medical advice.

But medicine changes fast! New medication comes out and new treatments get published all the time. How do doctors stay up to date on so many topics? I talked to a few (two pharmacists, a pediatrician, and a hospitalist) to find out.

My goals

My goal was to understand doctors’ consumption of news and healthcare news. I also wanted to use these small insights to guide future writing in Medicine for Mere Mortals. I also asked how much they’re ok with having to keep track of yet another source of information. Doctors already have to keep up with a lot, and I didn’t want Mere Mortals to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

One note: four clinicians is a tiny sample size, so these findings don’t quite tell the whole story. I hope it’s the start of a conversation.


Docs get a LOOOT of email (
  • Docs prioritize scanning headlines over reading articles and papers. They then dig deeper into the ones that stand out.
  • Docs’ network of colleagues and friends plays a sizable role in surfacing important information. Also one of the ways they find out time-sensitive information.
  • Some immediately relevant news comes to docs; it’s not always information docs seek out. (E.g. a generic version of an expensive drug comes out, and colleagues bring it up at work.)
  • Docs have several sources of information (true of us all). They use email, texting, social media, and clinical resources as valid sources of information. The more informal sources serve as a trigger to investigate in more detail (ultimately, they look for evidence-based sources).
  • Docs prefer to receive newsletters/publications weekly or monthly. Daily is definitely too frequent; “Not enough substantial change has happened in one day.”
  • Where health policy and politics come into play, docs prefer infrequent, concise news.
  • Docs read the news more than they watch it, both healthcare and otherwise.
  • Docs read news during their free time, over meals, and during any downtime at work.
  • Docs feel like they’re keeping up well with changes in the industry. This holds true even for specialized doctors with specific information needs.
  • According to their colleagues, many clinicians are confused by health policy and billing. Can’t say I blame ’em, most Americans are.
  • Docs learn teamwork on the job during their residencies, but they think their training and medical education should focus on teamwork more. “You grow up in a silo, and we still train most of our clinicians that way.”
  • To my surprise, all four were willing to add new information sources to their ever-growing pile. The only caveat: the content must be valuable. “I can always unsubscribe later” came up more than once. It seems missing valuable resources is more painful than the hassle of unsubscribing.
  • They also agreed that the tone and style of a publication doesn’t matter much. Within reason, the presentation can be informal so long as the content is high-quality and relevant.

All four were willing to tack on new information sources to their ever-growing pile, so long as the content was relevant and valuable to them.

Even in the healthcare industry, it seems content is king.

Often-cited sources

A few sources of information came up repeatedly across interviews. Here they are:

Thank you for reading! See you in the next article!

I’m Juan Valera, a product designer in Seattle, WA. You can see what I’m up to on my personal site and on Twitter!