Wikipedia-style journal clubs are building collaborative channels for physicians to stay current on the latest research in their fields. Imagine enjoying the lively conversation, informative clinical studies and evidence-based research of an innovative medical conference but without the costly registration or travel fees. Sound like your kind of scene? Here are five key benefits to look for if you’re planning to join an online journal club.

The Journal of Graduate Medical Education (JGME) recently published a series of articles discussing the benefits of online journal clubs, which have empowered physicians to use innovative social media and blogging tools in productive research settings online.

If you’re searching for a digital journal club, make sure it meets these key criteria and offers the following member benefits:

Most contemporary journal club conferences offer information that will improve physicians’ biostatistics knowledge and critical appraisal skills, according to three research fellows who recently authored a JGME article about their experience starting Wiki Journal Club, an online community for peer-reviewed clinical and specialty-based research. “Yet journal clubs are limited by their real-time-only nature, relatively low attendance and propensity to over represent the viewpoints of a handful of vocal participants, who tend to overpower even the most diplomatic of mediators,” they wrote.        

Helpful journal clubs will avoid allowing a few members to dominate research discussions and instead foster an open exchange of ideas. They may also use conversational tools such as Twitter and blog posts for physicians to share articles and discussion topics, article authors noted.

In January, JGME and staff at the Academic Life in Emergency Medicine blog (ALieM) facilitated an open-access online journal club to discuss a JGME article about a multisite survey examining medical students’ expectations for resident teachers. The journal club housed online discussions and comments about the survey on a blog post, which garnered 1,324 page views from 372 cities in 42 countries during the single week the online journal club operated, according to an article on the JGME-ALieM project.

Project facilitators said that participation in the club received from physicians around the world proves that effective online journal clubs can operate beyond the confines of traditional medial conferences and build global communities for physicians.

Unlike medical conferences, sharing research in an online journal club doesn’t require PowerPoint presentations or an available hotel conference room. Instead, physicians can request and discover resourceful clinical studies using social media and blogging tools. For instance, the Wiki Journal Club uses a blog and Twitter to allow physicians to submit various clinical studies across different specialties. From there, the club’s editors select the studies they will share based on general consensus and whether the research under review offers valuable information, such as practice-changing studies in internal medicine and studies requested by other journal club participants.

In addition to offering studies and research articles based on requests from club members, the Wiki Journal Club also catalogs and archives clinical studies based on topic and specialty. Over time, as members continue to share links, add information to research pages and discuss additional Wiki Journal Club entries, the club is building a searchable body of online research that can help any resident or fellow stay informed in their field. “At the center of WJC is a bibliography of landmark studies organized by disease, specialty and publication date,” the club facilitators wrote.

Editors at JGME said that online journal clubs offer a fun cost-effective way for physicians to review and discuss helpful clinical research. But beyond information sharing, they noted that online research-based clubs also can increase physicians’ access to valuable research that may improve clinical outcomes and efficiencies in practice. “Our objective is to shorten the knowledge-to-practice time for research that has strong evidence and to reduce premature uptake of research that contradicts the collective experience of medical educators and researchers,” JGME editors wrote. “Our goal is not to replace the benefits of expert review and editorial insights but to amplify these resources with the wisdom of diverse communities of practice.”

For more information about online journal clubs, check out this special cheat sheet from the JGME, which explains how to start a journal club and the key components of an effective online research community.

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