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Staying Up to date by reading 900 Journals

Medical research is producing such a barrage of information that some doctors would need to read 900 different journals a year to stay up to date, a study finds.

The analysis by Queensland academics has borne out many doctors' suspicions: that research is now published in so many different journals it is effectively impossible to keep up.

To keep fully abreast of new research on cancer, for example, clinicians would now need to read 503 different journals. For cardiology, 374, for mental disorders, 545, and for neurology a staggering 896 (see below).The figures were published this month in theBMJ (online) by Professor Paul Glasziou and colleagues from Bond University's Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice.They analysed randomised trials and systematic reviews published in 2009, to demonstrate how papers from particular specialties get "scattered" across numerous different journals.

"The main concern of this scatter is that trials and systematic reviews are published in more journals than clinicians can feasibly read to keep up to date with research," they said"Clinicians who read or subscribe to journals in their specialty only are likely to miss many new relevant papers as many were published in other types of journals."

Professor Glasziou and colleagues warned the situation was getting worse, with research output doubling every seven years, and the number of journals doubling every 20.Possible solutions included journal compilation services, such as the ACP Journal Club, or online databases of research relevant to particular specialties."The resources needed [to rectify the situation] will be substantial but small compared with the US$100 billion spent on medical research annually, much of which is wasted because it is unusable or unused."

BMJ 2012; online.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD: number needed to read*

  1. Neurology: 896
  2. Mental health: 545
  3. Cancer: 503
  4. Endocrinology: 447
  5. Respiratory: 460
  6. Cardiology: 374
  7. Otolaryngology: 167

*Number of journals needed to read per year to find 100% of randomised trials and systematic reviews, based on 2009 publishing data.

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