Physician Insights: Three Ways Medical Literature is Evolving

Staying up-to-date on the latest news is a challenge for us all in the era of the 24-hour media cycle. For physicians, this stress can be compounded by the flood of medical literature required to stay current in their specialties. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Library Association (JAMLA) found that over 7,000 articles are published monthly in primary care journals alone—something that would take the average physician 20 hours of reading each day to cover.

How do busy physicians juggle reading with all of their other patient and administrative work? A survey of physicians on Doximity this summer discovered a few key learnings about how physicians read:

  • The average physician spends one to two hours a week reading news online on a smartphone, computer or tablet.
  • 98% of physicians report that reading medical literature is important or very important to their practice.

So, reading is important and it’s something that physicians spend a good amount of time on each week, but does reading really impact clinical outcomes? According to the survey:

  • Nearly 75% of physicians change their clinical practices based on reading medical literature monthly or quarterly.
  • 16% of physicians report that reading medical literature directly helped save the life of a patient in the last year.

These statistics drive home the importance of what physicians read. They also show that doctors know that this literature is having such an influence—and that it directly impacts the lives of their patients.

So the challenge for marketers is to provide compelling medical literature to physicians in a way that fits into their workflow. Let’s take a closer look at three areas of changing dynamics in medical news: The role of medical librarians; the world of medical journals; and the new technology tools that aim to connect the right stories to the right doctors.

The Role of Medical Librarians

Many medical libraries are fighting for survival in a changing landscape of information. According to the Medical Library Association (MLA), 1,970 medical libraries employ medical librarians in the U.S., compared to nearly 5,000 hospitals. In 2011, Johns Hopkins University announced plans to close its 81-year-old medical library, which contains more than 400,000 printed volumes, and switch to an entirely digital model for information delivery. The library closure was halted and plans for renovation were implemented instead, but the future of this iconic facility remains uncertain as online programs continue to grow.

In a newly digital world, it’s easier and faster for doctors to get news directly from online sources, rather than going to a physical hospital library. Like the team at Johns Hopkins, savvy librarians across the U.S. are trying to shift focus into new informatics roles. According to Kate Corcoran from the MLA, “A number of our members work in new areas (e.g., data curation and health literacy). Many are involved with health research and evidence-based practice (an example would be searches for systematic reviews) and many are involved in connecting EMRs and EHRs to relevant library and literature sources. Also, many hospital-based medical librarians provide consumer and patient health information.”

How Have Medical Journals Changed?

In contrast to the medical librarian field, medical journal publishing appears to be booming. A new generation of “open access” journals emerged in 2006 with the foundation of PLOS ONE. Today, PLOS ONE is the largest biomedical journal in the world, and is joined by more than 7,000 other open access journals. With the combined output of open access journals and traditional subscription publications, physicians have never before had such mass quantities of frequently published content to sift through.

Is the new landscape of medical publishing going to look like Twitter—mostly “talking” and not that much “listening?” According to the chairman of Elsevier, “In 2012, 1.8 million scientific research articles were published. That is more scholarly literature published in one year than any single scholar can possibly hope to read in a lifetime.”

New Technology To Connect Physicians With News

As noted, physicians are faced with more news than ever and traditional resources such as medical libraries are struggling to find their new leadership role. Enter Silicon Valley. Much like Flipboard for everyday readers, reading tools have emerged to help deliver the right news to the right physicians.

Two different physicians—even in similar specialties—might have very different medical news needs. One could be a proceduralist working in a hospital setting, and another could be a general cardiologist in an outpatient setting. Tailoring the news becomes critical given how little time doctors have to sift through it all.

Thus, medical reading is beginning to get social. Beyond news for their specialty, physicians want updates delivered to them based on their unique clinical interests, publication history and other CV data. There is also an inherent value to a physician in knowing that he/she is consuming the top articles read by peers in his/her specialty. This type of social-based news curation can be seen in action with LinkedIn Today, Doximity’s DocNews and Swayy. Technology startups may be the key to curating medical news in a way that is relevant and manageable for physicians.

Where We Go From Here

As a medical marketer (any marketer, really), knowing your audience can be the crucial difference between a campaign that delivers on awareness goals and one that falls flat. It’s a challenge to stay current on the latest in the fast-changing area of medical news and content consumption. For those of us who can stay one step ahead, new channels for news delivery present especially valuable opportunities to reach physicians. Delivering quality, useful content to physicians in a way that feels relevant is a win-win for us all.


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