March 23, 2007

Ob/Gyn journal’s makeover exploits Web’s capabilities

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Steven Gabbe, M.D.

Ob/Gyn journal’s makeover exploits Web’s capabilities

Alarmed by dwindling subscriptions, Steven Gabbe, M.D., and his fellow editors at the venerable American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, decided the 137-year-old publication, known as “The Gray Journal” because of its gray cover, needed a major face-lift.

“We realized we had to do something,” said Gabbe, dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“People don't want to get their information that way anymore. They don't have time to sit down with a thick and full journal, and read it cover to cover.”

So in January, the Elsevier US Health Sciences Journals division in New York unveiled a dramatic makeover, and began mailing the magazine free to all 45,000 obstetricians and gynecologists in the United States. Previously, about 13,000 doctors paid subscriptions to receive it.

The official journal is now posted online at The Web site offers full-length reports and references plus supplementary material — including video clips, animations and downloadable slide presentations.

The print version features abridged versions of the research articles, with 1,500-word summaries and key bullet points highlighting each study's rationale, methods, results and clinical implications.

“One of the benefits … will be the ability to publish research more quickly, to provide searchable access once it is typeset, and to (point) clinicians … in the direction of the full-length article,” said Pamela Poppalardo, publishing director of Elsevier US Health Sciences Journals.

The Gray Journal is a relative late-comer to the digital world. All of the science journals published by Amsterdam-based Elsevier have had electronic versions for several years, and some of them publish “articles in press” — manuscripts approved by the author but not yet typeset in PDF format.

However, this was not a precipitous transformation.

We set up three focus groups of obstetricians and gynecologists in office and hospital-based practices, and asked them to tell us what types of information they were looking for,” Poppalardo said. The groups revealed that while physicians respected the quality of the research reported by The Gray Journal, “they found the quantity of information — the length and the complexity of the articles — overwhelming and daunting.”

“So we came up with the concept of an extended summary, written by medical journalists, focused on what (busy clinicians) absolutely need to know to be up-to-date on research,” she said.

Gabbe and his fellow editors acknowledged that moving the full text of articles online was bound to concern scientists for whom “the physical existence of their work in paper form has been a sign of legitimacy.”

Gray Journal “authors can be assured that their articles will appear in (downloadable) PDF form,” they wrote in their editorial.

Not only will this assure that papers have a “physical existence,” but it will actually extend their reach throughout the world.

“More people than ever,” the editors concluded, “will be able to hold the printed article in their hands.”