The evolving role of medical publication professionals in improving the accessibility and discoverability of scientific research

Sarah Sabir

Open Pharma Members, Supporters and key advisers came together to discuss how medical publication professionals can improve the accessibility and discoverability of scientific research.

In January 2020, Open Pharma Members and Supporters attended a roundtable meeting hosted by GSK in Brentford, UK. The meeting focused on how we, as medical publication professionals, can work together to improve the accessibility and discoverability of our research outputs, and what is the best way to communicate these to a targeted and increasingly busy audience.

The meeting kicked off with an update on the launch of the Open Pharma position statement on open access, which calls for journals and publishers to allow pharma-funded authors the same rights as non-pharma-funded authors, in order to ensure that peer-reviewed information of the highest quality is available to anyone, anywhere in the world. The position statement has now reached an amazing 100 endorsements from academics, pharma companies, publishers, patients and agencies from across the globe. Representatives from pharma companies that do not currently have an open access mandate in place highlighted that they actively recommend and provide guidance to their authors on how to publish open access. Education of authors in this way has led to increasing rates of open access publications within these companies. Publishers in the room stated that one trigger for the transition of a journal to a Creative Commons Attribution licence is the demand from authors. So, could we be doing more work with authors to challenge the current restrictions?

Alternative avenues for making research accessible were discussed, including the use of preprint servers and self-archiving repositories. Although preprints speed up the dissemination of scientific research and could provide a potential route to green open access, there are still concerns over their use, given the lack of formal peer review. However, servers such as MedRxiv, a preprint server for healthcare research, ask additional screening questions to ensure that there are benefits to sharing research before peer review takes place, and that there are no risks to public health in doing so. Self-archiving repositories offer a legal green open access route, and attendees agreed that more education would help researchers, organizations and funders understand the options available to them to make their research accessible.

In an increasingly engaged society, audiences – from patients to busy healthcare professionals – often turn to their favourite search engines for the latest information on a particular disease or drug. Participants at the roundtable meeting agreed that we have the responsibility to ensure that peer-reviewed information is readily accessible, discoverable and easy to digest, helping to create an informed society. Plain language summaries linked to the primary peer-reviewed publication would serve to inform members of the public interested in the study and also to provide an accurate and concise summary for busy healthcare professionals. Publication enhancements digitally linked to the publication (e.g. video abstracts, infographics, plain language summaries, webinars) enable audiences to understand information more easily and quickly and through the appropriate channel. Wiley presented their findings demonstrating a positive effect of publication enhancements on the reach and impact of their publications. One concern is that journals have different requirements for enhancements, so generating them for submission with the manuscript might be a waste of effort if the manuscript is later rejected. The roundtable participants advised working prospectively with the journals and publishers to explore options and requirements.

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