Doctorline: A private toll-free telephone medical information service. Five years of activity: Old problems and new perspectives

Alessandro Nobili, Freweini Gebru, Ave Rossetti, Francesco Schettino, Ralf W. Zahn, Enrico Nicolis, Gianluca Macario, Laura Celani, Victoria O. Acik, Marialuisa Farina, Luigi Naldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Healthcare professionals need to continually update their knowledge to provide care based on scientific evidence. In some cases it can be difficult to gain access to the different sources of medical information. In an attempt to overcome these problems, a toll-free telephone medical information service (Doctorline) was established. OBJECTIVE: To describe the development, aims, organization, and activities of this private service. METHODS: Doctorline is an independent, unbiased, toll-free medical information service that provides information on clinical, pharmacologic, and toxicologic issues; bibliographic searches; full-text articles; public and private clinics; details of forthcoming congresses; and legislative documentation. The service is available Monday through Friday, 1000 to 2000. Staff members are physicians trained in communication techniques, literature evaluation methodologies, and computerized database use. The main on-line facilities are MEDLINE, Micromedex-CCIS, and the Italian Formulary on CD- ROM. Books, bulletins, national and international drug formularies, and property files (i.e., directory of Italian public and private clinics) are also available. METHODS: In 5 years, Doctorline has received 65 258 calls. Nearly 34% of the calls were made by general practitioners, followed by cardiologists (22%), orthopedists (15%), pharmacists (14%), gastroenterologists (13%), and urologists (10%). From 1991 to 1996, nearly 20% of the calls concerned pharmacologic issues, 43% nonpharmacologic issues, while the rest of the calls were for nonclinical requests. Approximately 21% of all questions received an answer during the same phone call (on-line answers); for the other answers (off-line answers) the mean ± SD waiting time was 7.8 ± 10.4 days. Although the nature of the questions has been recorded since 1991, data about the exact number of physicians who used the service axe available only from 1994. Data from 1994 indicate that of the 52 181 physicians who could access the service, only 8817 (16.9%) called at least once, with a mean number of calls per physician of 3.9 (range 3.0- 5.6). CONCLUSIONS: The future of Doctorline will depend on the quality and validity of the information prodded (i.e., based exclusively on scientific evidence, independent of the source of funds), the promotion of the aims, organization, and clinical utility of the service (especially among physicians who made little or no use of the service), and differentiation of the service activities in relation to the physician's specific needs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-125
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of Pharmacotherapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1998


  • Drug information

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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