November 16, 2007

YouTube may be medical journals’ future: speaker

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(photo by Dana Johnson)

YouTube may be medical journals’ future: speaker

Wikis, blogs, blikis, Second Life, YouTube. These aren't the latest rock bands — they are the future of esteemed medical journals. Or so says Faith McClellan, Ph.D., the senior North American editor for The Lancet, the world's No. 2 medical journal.

McClellan assessed the fate of medical publications in a recent Dean's Lecture sponsored by the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. The purpose of medical journals, McClellan said, is to inform and reform the practice of medicine, “but where are people actually going for their information? Are medical journals still useful?”

The overflow audience of students and faculty answered the question with a resounding “no.” Only 25 percent indicated they read physical copies of journals. Sixty percent get information from online journals, while nearly 100 percent find the latest on medical research and practice through Google and Wikipedia.

The future of medical information lies in new media, McClellan said.

The term “new media” covers an array of digital communication technologies. These include instant messaging, RSS feeds, podcasts, blogs, wikis (Web sites that let people contribute to content), and blikis (wikis of blogs).

People often see bloggers as cranks with a computer and a cause, but McClellan presented several medical blogs that translate complex research data into concrete, easy-to-understand practice guidelines. These blogs take information from subscription-only journals and pare it down to “start — consider — stop” steps.

Public health officials are using wikis such as “Flu Wiki” to track outbreaks of infectious disease, McClellan said. And a study in the British Medical Journal found that the Web is becoming an important clinical tool for doctors. According to the study, Googling for a diagnosis revealed the correct diagnosis in 58 percent of cases.

“YouTube and Second Life can be great tools for teaching and learning,” McClellan said, referring to the video-sharing Web site and the online 3-D world where users create alternate virtual lives. “And guess what? The Centers for Disease Control is on YouTube.”

What will happen to the rigor of peer review if medical journals merge into the fast lane of new media?

“Only time will tell,” McClellan said. “But we have to adapt or die.”

“People don't use journals as they did in the past,” agreed VUSM Dean Steven Gabbe, M.D., during a question and answer session.

Gabbe is associate editor of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, which offers a free, abridged version in the traditional paper format. “They don't have time to read. They want just the facts served up in short portions.”