E-HEALTH: Medical Journals Try Online Publishing
The Wall Street Journal yesterday took a look at the efforts of medical journals -- for whom "six months used to be viewed as a tight deadline" -- to join the information age by publishing online. The new push to publish new research within "a matter of weeks from submission" has brought to life a number of problems, including how best to streamline the journal review process. Leading the pack is former Journal of the American Medical Association editor Dr. George Lundberg, who has developed an online "web-zine" for physicians, called Medscape General Medicine, which appears on the site of Medscape Inc., a medical information source targeted to physicians. According to Lundberg, Medscape General Medicine recently reviewed and published a study on tuberculosis in Ethiopia in "only 39 days." While some welcome the expedited review process, others are more cautious, worried that the rigorous standards for reviewing medical studies may be sacrificed. "What you don't want is a quick-and-dirty review, where the reviewer is turning it around overnight," said Dr. Jerome Kassirer, editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Kassirer "dismisses Medscape's 39-day boast as 'a gimmick,'" saying that few studies are "so groundbreaking" that physicians need immediate access. The average time NEJM takes to review and publish a study is seven months, although certain critical studies can be published on the journal's Web site weeks earlier. JAMA also has a six-month review process, but according to Deputy Editor Margaret Winker, the journal recently implemented "JAMA-Express," an expedited process that can speed certain studies to the journal's Web site in as few as four weeks and to the print version in as few as six.
Although Dr. Lundberg agrees that some studies require extended review, he believes that peer reviewer procrastination is the main reason for delaying the process. Medscape General Medicine therefore asks peer reviewers, whom suggest show typically review manuscripts in about two hours, to adhere to a 72-hour turnaround. Online publishing also presents other, newer problems, such as delays with electronic links, but Dr. Lundberg says these delays are "insignificant" compared to the time it takes traditional journals to publish a study (Carrns, 7/14). Click here to read about NIH Director Dr. Harold Varmus' proposal to create an on-line database, E-biomed, that would make all studies available, free of charge. E-biomed would maintain separate sections for peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed research.