Clinicians struggling to keep up-to-date with new research

May 24, 2012

Information overload is making it impossible for clinicians to keep up-to-date, according to the findings of research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) by a Bond University team.

A team of researchers from the University’s Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice: Associate Professor Tammy Hoffmann, Assistant Professor Chrissy Erueti, medical librarian Sarah Thorning and Professor of Evidence Based Medicine Paul Glasziou, conducted a study into the scatter of research across journals for seven medical specialties and nine subspecialties.

They found specialty relevant randomised trials and systematic reviews are published in more journals than clinicians can feasibly read to keep up to date with research.

“Our results highlight that clinicians who read or subscribe to journals in their speciality only, or arbitrarily scan a few journals for up to date information, are likely to miss many new relevant papers,” said Associate Professor Hoffmann.

“Research output doubles about every seven years. The annual growth rate of randomised trials, for example, is around 11%,” said Associate Professor Hoffmann.

“This continuing expansion is both a blessing and a curse. The collective knowledge we gain has potential to benefit patients globally, but that is inhibited by an information overload being experienced by clinicians struggling to keep abreast of new research.

“Growth in the number of both articles and journals means reports of new developments are increasingly scattered, with no corresponding increase in the amount of time clinicians can devote to reading,” she said.

The Bond University study found publication rates of randomised trials varied widely according to speciality – from one to seven trials per day – with articles scattered across hundreds of journals.

Although systematic reviews, (which attempt to reduce the scatter of trials by synthesising the best research for a specific clinical question), did reduce the extent of scatter, their publication is still widely spread, and often outside of ‘core’ journals.

She said solutions are clearly needed to help clinicians cope with the increasing volume and scatter of research publications.

“Systematic review registers, specialist databases and journal scanning services are all potential solutions that have been proposed in different disciplines, but few of these exist and many of the current systems do not seem adequate.

“Each specialty should consider which types of resource may provide the greatest benefit for their clinicians.

“Although the cost to develop and maintain such resources will be substantial, it is small compared with the $100bn spent on medical research annually, much of which is wasted because it is unusable or unused,” said Associate Professor Hoffmann.