JAMA feature aims to spark debate and hits a nerve

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Howard Bauchner
Howard Bauchner
Journals are a curious media form in that they provide fodder for debate on medical topics, but not a forum in which to hold one.

Enter JAMA's new 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. He said the mail traffic also exceeds anything “in the memory of the person who does that section.” 

Bauchner added that the 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 Op-ed set-up is just one part of his strategy to make his publication a more immersive experience, and he that he's looking beyond the realm of professional journals to see what makes sense for JAMA. This is in addition to rolling out a new website and apps over the next few weeks.

“Journals, if they sit on people's desks unread, are not very successful. Journals have to engage their readers. That's true in print. And it's true on the web. I think in general journals haven't been highly innovative,” he said.

But 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,” he said.

He said the key guideline for any change will be how the publication can support its readers and that offerings like Viewpoint address the many ways physicians learn. He said it also gives them the opportunity to be involved in “the informational exchange that physicians have always prided themselves on.”

JAMA isn't the only online destination for healthcare professionals to mix it up with debate of late. Sermo recently launched a series called Speaker, inviting medical and political bigshots to opine about the medical policy issues of the day, and Sermo Columns, a bevy of opinion columns.

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