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How Can Healthcare Workers Keep Up With the Latest Research?

How Can Healthcare Workers Keep Up With the Latest Research?  content piece image
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Between caring for patients and battling global pandemics, healthcare workers have a lot on their plate. But best clinical practice isn’t set in stone and, like scientific paradigms, is always adapting to new evidence. How can healthcare workers make time to keep abreast of the latest literature in their field?

Content discovery platform ClinOwl could be the solution. The platform is designed to be a curated source of relevant published data for healthcare professionals. To find out more, we spoke to ClinOwl’s CEO, Ben Mansfield. 

Ruairi Mackenzie (RM): How does ClinOwl distinguish itself from other database search engines such as PubMed?

Ben Mansfield (BM):
ClinOwl is dedicated to making relevant clinical content easily accessible to busy healthcare professionals, enabling them to keep up to date quickly and easily.

PubMed, on the other hand, is very much geared towards medical researchers and will always be the place to go if you are carrying out a large piece of research and need to do a thorough review of the evidence base.

We know that healthcare professionals need to be aware of the latest research relevant to their clinical practice but don’t always have the time to trawl PubMed or dozens of medical journals.

ClinOwl is designed to be more browsable and not only aggregates thousands of the latest articles from leading medical journals but also organizes them into over 100 clinical specialties and sub-specialties based on a sophisticated keyword filtering algorithm. Not only does this allow users to browse all the latest content in a single view, but it also offers a much wider view by finding relevant content from journals dedicated to other specialties, which the user may not have thought to look at or have access to.

For example, a busy oncologist with an interest in lung cancer probably doesn’t have time to read all the oncology journals let alone all the respiratory journals and even if they did, they would have to wade through lots of irrelevant content before finding what’s of interest to them. ClinOwl saves them time by pulling all the relevant lung cancer articles into a single view from a wide range of journals.

Clinowl is also helping to break down the traditional siloes of medicine, which are becoming more and more obsolete as we deal with an ageing population, often with multiple co-morbidities.

Our recent online user survey confirmed that the majority of visitors to ClinOwl are indeed healthcare professionals (76%)*, as opposed to researchers and students (15%) or patients (9%).

Finally, ClinOwl acts a shop window for leading medical publishers by making clinical content easier to access for healthcare professionals and 35% of all visits to ClinOwl result in an outbound link click to the full article on the originator’s website.

*ClinOwl online user survey, June 2020 (N=392) - 43% doctor, 16% nurse, 9% pharmacist and 8% other/allied healthcare professional.

RM: ClinOwl is designed to help HCPs find the “most relevant, high-quality papers”. What defines a “relevant” or “high-quality” paper?

In terms of quality, ClinOwl only features articles and research from leading peer-reviewed medical journals and has tried to focus on those journals which are cited as being the most read by everyday healthcare professionals. We look at data from various healthcare professional readership surveys in leading healthcare markets such as the UK, US, Canada and Japan to help define our journal lists.

For relevance, in addition to organizing by specialty and sub-specialty, we filter out articles that are focused on in vitro studies and focus instead on in vivo studies. We further refine this to human studies where possible. This ensures that healthcare professionals are being kept up to date with the latest research that is most likely to have an impact on their clinical practice in the short to medium term rather than being 10+ years away from having an impact.

Our clinical guideline feeds are particularly popular as guidelines play an ever more important role in the management of patients with both acute and chronic illnesses. This again demonstrates ClinOwl’s commitment to providing practical support to frontline HCPs.

RM: ClinOwl has recently collaborated with OpenAthens to make accessing selected articles in full a simpler process. How many HCPs can gain access through this route?

The partnership with OpenAthens is an important step in the development of ClinOwl. OpenAthens is widely used by healthcare organizations globally to enable single sign on access to medical journals for which institutional access has been purchased, usually through the medical library.

The integration with OpenAthens provides a number of benefits to ClinOwl users with an OpenAthens account:

  • Access to additional functionality by being logged-in to the ClinOwl platform such as bookmarking article feeds and articles in your account for future reference
  • Once a HCP has discovered a piece of relevant content on ClinOwl, they can seamlessly transition from ClinOwl to the publisher’s website and remain logged in via the single sign on solution (where it is a journal for which they have institutional access). This again saves precious time and creates a more efficient user experience rather than having to constantly log in and out of different platforms.

Since the integration went live in July, there have been 2,000 log ins to ClinOwl with an OpenAthens account. This figure is likely to grow significantly as OpenAthens has over 4m end users across more than 2,600 organisations in 50 different countries. Of this number, over 375,000 are NHS employees.

RM: If HCPs are to give proper care to their patients, access to the literature is essential. Should HCPs have barriers, such as having to use institutional access, in their way?

This is quite a contentious subject and one that was already being hotly debated before COVID-19 came along and shone an even bigger spotlight on this topic. As ClinOwl doesn’t actually create content, it only collates and curates other people’s content, it is easy for me to take the philanthropic view and say that it should all be open access. However, I do feel the pain of the publishers whose business models rely on revenue from institutional subscriptions.

Whatever happens, I think medical publishers still need to be involved as they play a really important role in ensuring a high level of quality and also provide a forum for research to be scrutinized and debated. What the new commercial model will look like for these traditional medical publishers is hard to say at this stage, but maybe it is more around debate and practical interpretation of research than simply publication and access.

RM: ClinOwl has a database of COVID-19 literature available for HCPs. What extra steps has it taken towards ensuring the quality of this data, given widespread concerns about the field’s reliance on preprints and research that has not been peer-reviewed?

This is a good question and the honest answer is that we have been slightly more relaxed with the COVID-19 literature due to the fact that there has been so much of it in such a short space of time. This means that the quality of COVID-19 literature is universally not as high as it is in other therapy areas. We are constantly reviewing this, and one thing we will start to do soon is restrict the number of journals we scour for COVID-19 literature to make it more manageable.

Our COVID-19 resource page currently helps HCPs filter by important keywords such as diagnosis, symptoms, treatment and guidelines, so they can home in on the topics most relevant to them. We have also created some article feeds looking at COVID-19 in relation to specific clinical specialties where there is an overlap or extra consideration needs to be taken e.g. cardiology, respiratory and oncology.

Ben Mansfield was speaking to Ruairi J Mackenzie, Science Writer for Technology Networks