Paul A. Petruzzi, DLitt, and Deb Roney, MA, The Lockwood Group

We’re glued to our technology, right? We’re never far from a smart phone, tablet, e-reader, or laptop. We work online and in e-rooms and clouds. We IM someone who’s running late for a TC. Even our healthcare professionals (HCPs) are likely to greet us with laptop in hand, write an e-scrip, and keep our medical records electronically. Therefore, it’s logical to assume that online options are the primary source of information for HCPs; however, while online and social media continue to grow in popularity, many clinicians continue to rely on traditional journals for important scientific and clinical information. How, then, do authors and publication professionals determine the media that best aligns information with audience?

A Challenge and an Opportunity

A potential challenge for authors and publication professionals is to select the journal that aligns the data in the publication with the HCPs who are most likely to benefit from the information. Where the data are published may be as important to clinical uptake as the data itself. For example, peer-reviewed journals with impressive impact factors may be a consideration for reporting the results of landmark trials to an audience interested in P values and statistical significance. Society-sponsored and mid-tier journals, which often have broad readership, may be appropriate for clinical content directed to community-based clinicians with a practice-based perspective. Nurses, pharmacists, and payers each have their own areas of interest and are likely to read journals specific to their discipline or society, as well as general journals in their field. These factors create an opportunity to:

  • Select a discipline-specific or general-medicine journal
  • Consider factors related to print, online only, and open access formats
  • Align information with audience

The Impact of Online Availability, Open Access, and Social Media

Although online journal readership continues to grow, anecdotal reports and informal surveys indicate that HCPs still prefer to receive information in print journals. However, while traditional print journals remain popular, traditional reading habits may be altered by online availability, open access, and social media.

Print journals with online platforms have grown in popularity and readership (see Table 1 below) as many, if not all, print journals can now be accessed online. For example, New England Journal of Medicine has a print circulation of ~115,000, while online viewing is ~2.4 million average monthly unique global visits.1 Similar trends are noted with specialty journals (eg, oncology, Table 1), which may suggest that online availability engages a broad audience and may be a common source of information for clinicians in academic, specialty, and community settings. As clinician preference for print journals remains strong, it is possible that some online visits may be from patients, caregivers, and members of the general public. Historically, most laypeople have not had ready access to medical publications. Today, however, medical publications can be easily found online through Google (Scholar), PubMed, or via open access, which are only a few mouse clicks away. Online availability also enables non-HCPs (eg, advocates, trade groups, writers, and bloggers) who have an interest in a specific therapeutic area to tweet, share, post, and/or discuss to amplify key communication points.

Table 1. Sample Journal Metrics: Print Circulation and Online Visits

Social media, including blogs and tweets, also have considerable impact on who goes where for what information. Online articles are being accessed by the millions and shared in tweets and blogs, rather than academic citation. Altmetrics have been developed to complement traditional, citation-based metrics. Altmetrics can include (but are not limited to) peer reviews on Faculty of 1000 (article recommendation service), citations on Wikipedia and in public policy documents, discussions on research blogs, mainstream media coverage, bookmarks on reference managers, and mentions on social media.2

Reaching a Broader Audience Through New Options

While online availability, open access, and social media may seem like added layers of complexity and choice when selecting an appropriate venue for a scientific publication, authors and publication professionals should recognize that these new options provide exciting and innovative ways to engage specific audiences. Print journals will likely remain the “go to” for many clinicians–perhaps especially true for society journals where a subscription may be included, or available at reduced cost, in the membership fee. However, many print journals also offer subscribers the option of print or digital editions, and articles are frequently available online in advance of print publication (ie, e-pub ahead of print). With this, the trend toward online access and readership is likely to grow in the coming years. As a result, authors and publication professionals will increasingly have access to tools that are not available in print only, including:

  • Video abstracts that allow readers to see and hear directly from an author
  • Mechanism of action videos to clarify and supplement text descriptions
  • Open access engagement of a broad spectrum of readers – including patients and healthcare consumers – who might not otherwise have access to primary, unfiltered data and information.

Social media also expands the dialogue to include authors, companies, and/or journals tweeting about a recently released publication, or a prominent blogger in the field mentioning a recent publication in their blog. These are examples of new and unique tools that are available to authors and publication professionals.

As medical publication professionals, we accept the responsibility of collaborating with authors to provide accurate and timely scientific and clinical information to the healthcare community. This responsibility now includes inviting discussion with authors to identify the new options afforded by online availability, open access, and social media that will help to successfully align information and audience. Welcome, 2018!


  1. Accessed 11 December 2017.


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