All subjects were faculty members involved in undergraduate and graduate level medical education from the selected medical universities in southern China, including Guangxi Medical University (GXMU), Guangxi University of Chinese Medicine (GXUCM), Guilin Medical University (GLMU), Guangzhou Medical University(GZHMU), Kunming Medical University KMMU), and Fudan University (FDU). All participants were required to meet the following inclusion criteria: 1) engaged in health sciences research at the selected universities and 2) were willing to give consent to participate in this study.
Data collection and Measures
A self-completed online questionnaire was used for data collection. The online data was collected during December 2016 to March 2017. The questionnaire was developed based on our earlier qualitative study among the health sciences faculty members  and was pilot tested with ten faculty members. The questionnaire gathered data on: demographic characteristics (age, gender, professional level, working university, number of years working in the field, focused research field and highest educational attainment), questions on ICT use, use of ICT tools, suggested content for an ICT curriculum and form of marketing approaches and attitudes towards ICT use. This study was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Guangxi Medical University (No. IRB-SPH-2015: 009).
Numerical data was described as mean ± standard deviation, and categorical data was presented as frequency and percentages. We categorized subjects into two groups: ICT using group (i.e. those used ICT tools) and ICT free group (i.e. those who did not use ICT tools). ICT use was defined as using any ICT and/or biomedical informatics tools in their current research activities. Comparisons of numerical and categorical data were performed using Student’s independent t-test and Chi-square test, respectively. All analyses were processed using the SPSS software, version 22.0. A P value of <0.05 was considered as statistically significant.
Description of the participants
A total of 270 faculty members were enrolled in this study during the online data collection period. As shown in Table 1, of the 270 faculty members, 54% were female, the mean age was 33.23 years (standard deviation ±7.20). Most of the participants were from GXMU (67%), and involved in the field of Clinical Medicine (55%) and Public Health (20%). Tutors and lecturers accounted for 34% and 41% of all subjects respectively, and faculties with undergraduate and master’s degrees represented 27% and 53% of the total respectively. Only 8% of the participants received ICT related training and most faculties did not take an online course prior to this study (68%). Of the participants, 76% were using ICT in their research and other professional work (i.e. ICT using group). The ICT- using group had longer work experience than the ICT-free group (7.12 years vs. 5.37 years, P= 0.047), and a higher percentage of the ICT users received training (10%) than the ICT-free group (2%) (P=0.035).
Use of ICT tools among faculty members
As shown in Table 2, most frequently used tools were mobile phone (83%), the Internet (70%), non-mobile computer system (58%), WeChat (58%) and QQ (42%). Other tools including radio, cable TV, skype and CD-ROM were less used. The use of non-mobile computer system, WeChat and QQ was more frequent in ICT-using group than in ICT-free group (P= 0.023, 0.002 and 0.002, respectively).
Faculty members views on the use of ICT in professional work
As shown in Table 3, most faculty members held the idea that ICT could be used to support for information seeking or decision-support by medical/healthcare providers (67%), support for health information or healthcare advice by patients/laymen (56%) and help in identifying and/or implementing ICT and/or biomedical informatics method(s) to deliver a healthcare intervention (58%), while other uses of ICT were less realized. There were significant differences, between the ICT using and ICT free groups, in terms of the following use: the use of ICT to help in identifying &/or implementing ICT &/or biomedical informatics method(s) to deliver a healthcare intervention (P = 0.033) help in using ICT &/or biomedical informatics to deliver healthcare in urban/suburban settings (P = 0.008), and support on using ICT &/or biomedical informatics methods in their own research (P = 0.011).
Attitudes towards the importance of teaching content in an ICT training course
As shown in Table 4, the most valuable items in an ICT training course were “b. Learning what researchers need to know about ICT to be efficient & effective researchers”(74%), “t. Choosing the best ways to analyze specific data & address specific research questions”(72%), “d. Most useful ICT research methods/resources across the research process & where/how to access them”(71%), “o. Assuring data quality & fidelity when using electronic methods to acquire/ capture data”(71%) and “r. Best practices for managing data, including storage, security & retrieval”(71%). There were significant differences, between the ICT using and ICT free groups, towards the following statements: “a. An overview of ways that ICT can support/enhance the entire research process” (P = 0.013), “ d. Most useful ICT research methods/resources across the research process & where/how to access them” (P = 0.026), and “j. What kinds of databases exist, how to access them & possible new uses of these data in research” (P = 0.041).
The faculty members’ perspectives on the marketing means of ICT based education and training
As shown in Table 5, the most preferred marketing means was “academic health faculty researchers, educational program directors/education faculty & directors of healthcare service programs who have successfully used ICT in their work”, with a response rate of 32%. The attitudes towards the importance of different categories of marketing means were not significantly different between the ICT using and ICT free groups (P> 0.05).
The possible means of ICT marketing or promotional messages
Table 6 describes the best ways and contents to reach academic healthcare faculties with marketing or promotional messages of ICT related training. The preferred content was “Give presentations at GXMU & other target universities on key ICT-related topics and the use of ICT by faculty researchers, educators and clinical service directors at their institutions and at other institutions in China and elsewhere”, with an agreement rate of 35%. The importance of different categories of marketing contents were not significantly different between the ICT using and ICT free groups (P> 0.05).