New JAMA feature gives writers some room for debate

Howard Bauchner
Howard Bauchner

Journals routinely provide fodder for debates on medical topics, but rarely offer a forum in which to hold those debates.

Enter JAMA's Viewpoint feature, in which the editor chooses a topic, picks a panel of experts and pits them against each another in print. The publication schedule is sporadic—Editor-in-Chief Howard Bauchner told MM&M he hopes to run four or five in a year and build up to one every month—but the response has been consistent. Bauchner said a March Viewpoint about slashing medical training time triggered a flurry of reader responses that has dwarfed any other published items since he took the reins in 2011.

Responses have gone beyond the scope of the medical discussion, signaling that the 129-year-old publication has tapped into something important.

“I've received about 10 ideas for future dueling viewpoints, so I'm always pleased when people feel engaged with what we're doing,” he said.

Bauchner said the column is part of a strategy to make his publication a more immersive experience. Other components of that plan include rolling out a new website and apps.

“Journals, if they sit on people's desks unread, are not very successful,” he said. “Journals have to engage their readers. That's true in print. And it's true on the web.”

But he says there are limits: “There's been a lot of questions that have arisen round Twitter and Facebook and blogging … I'm not certain 140 characters does the content justice, so although we have a presence in the social network arena, I don't know what our future will be there.”