Background Print and online materials such as guideline summaries are commonly used to distribute evidence to primary care physicians; they are easy to implement and scale across many primary clinics.
Objectives We sought to determine: 1) if providing primary care physicians with print and online educational materials has an effect on physician behaviour or on patient outcomes, 2) how these materials were developed, and 3) whether design attributes impact outcomes.
Methods We systematically identified studies that reported a print or online educational intervention for primary care physicians. Studies were identified by searching four electronic databases, scanning reference lists, and contacting experts. A sub-analysis was conducted to collect data on how these materials were developed and on their use of design principles.
Results Thirty studies met eligibility criteria after full-text screening. Studies targeted physician advice-giving behaviour, diagnostic procedures, prescribing behaviour, change in knowledge, and clinical patient outcomes. Results suggest that print and online materials targeted at primary care physicians have little to no effect on outcomes.
Discussion Print and online educational materials provided to primary care physicians have little effect on physician or patient outcomes. This is concerning as they are a common method of disseminating evidence. Most studies do not describe how interventional materials were developed or whether design principles were applied.
Implications for Guideline Developers/Users Design principles should be considered when developing evidence-based materials and the development processes should be described in order to determine if better designs influence uptake and use of evidence.
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