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Medical journals in print: a dying resource?

Yesterday in the Chicago Tribune’s business section appeared an article entitled “Just What the Doctor Ordered” that included an interview with Dr. Howard Bauchner, the new editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). He plans to pursue a strategy of “intelligent innovation” for the journal: …looking for ways to get information to doctors […]

Yesterday in the Chicago Tribune’s business section appeared an article entitled “Just What the Doctor Ordered” that included an interview with Dr. Howard Bauchner, the new editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). He plans to pursue a strategy of “intelligent innovation” for the journal:

…looking for ways to get information to doctors and consumers through several new platforms, such as social media, video and other forms. “If you look at TED or Big Think, they have been experimenting with video clips,” Bauchner said. “I could imagine having some of our authors do video clips where they speak about the meaning of their research for eight or 10 minutes, and then that’s easily linked to a smart phone.”

He also wants shorter on-line versions of articles that condense the topic to 500 words from the typical 2,500- to 3,000-word articles — not too dissimilar, I suppose, to the abstract.

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Which leads to the inevitable end result: print medical journals are on life support. Like Borders Book Stores, print journals will no longer be archived in neat little rows in doctors’ offices any longer  — it simply is not how we get our information anymore. Dr. Bauchner, to his credit, acknowledges this.

But what he also fails to acknowledge is the business model that must keep pace with today’s internet. Doctors have a myriad of choices as to where they can turn to get their information and unless the content itself is really compelling there will be too many other sources of feel-good information-crack out there that will catch doctors’ eyes. Doctors will not pay for their content since there is no precedent to doing so, so the journal will have to rely on advertising revenue to fund their publications, much like the rest of the internet. Doctors and the public have already grown weary of the endless public relations “research” forwarded to our smartphones and the JAMA content will become just one more such source to cast a wary eye. How they manage to remove themselves from industry bias of “free content” provided to doctors will be JAMA’s greatest hurdle.

But there’s one other important challenge the journal will encounter in keeping their physician readers: their name. It will be next to impossible for the Journal to escape that fact that they are associated with the American Medical Association, since the odds of a rebranding of the name after 128 years is unlikely. Ultimately, how the next few years shape up for doctors might have more impact on the journal’s physician readership than the content they deliver.

Westby G. Fisher, MD, FACC is a board certified internist, cardiologist, and cardiac electrophysiologist (doctor specializing in heart rhythm disorders) practicing at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, IL, USA and is a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine. He entered the blog-o-sphere in November, 2005. He writes regularly at Dr. Wes. DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this blog are strictly the those of the author(s) and should not be construed as the opinion(s) or policy(ies) of NorthShore University HealthSystem, nor recommendations for your care or anyone else's. Please seek professional guidance instead.

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