Spine journal disruption: How visual abstracts and social media are changing the landscape


Healthcare is becoming digital; patient medical records are now on EMRs, physicians can make telemedicine visits and patients have wellness apps and wearables to track their progress and digitally navigate their health. The next frontier could be study abstracts.

"As you know, journals are changing. As the digital technologies are improving, the ability to get information out is great and in general, healthcare has become more virtual, so we are trying to parallel trends that have occurred over time," says Alok Sharan, MD, of Westmed Spine Center in Westchester County, N.Y. "At the core of every journal is the desire to have an impact on the field, to spread the reach of information. With Clinical Spine Surgery, we are able to carve out additional space recognizing our articles focus on the spine space."

Clinical Spine Surgery aims to provide primary research studies as well as articles for surgeons to better understand the business of healthcare. Editor-in-Chief Alexander Vaccaro, MD, PhD, of Philadelphia-based Rothman Institute now works with Dr. Sharan, newly appointed deputy editor of digital health transformation, to lead the publication into the 21st century.

One of the key ways Dr. Sharan will utilize the virtual platform is through visual abstracts. The visual abstracts are an easily digestible representation of the study findings in graphic form, which makes the studies more accessible to a wider audience and the international community.

"When you post articles and text summaries, they typically only get a few impressions," says Dr. Sharan. "A visual abstract increases the impressions nine-fold on that article."

Social media is already a large vehicle platform for visual abstracts; when posted on Facebook, the number of people joining the discussion about findings increases. The number of communication vehicles beyond print has increased, and with digital media visual abstracts could become videos and take on other forms to convey the same message.

As a result of the evolving form, research articles could become more dynamic.

"We appreciate that articles shouldn't be static," says Dr. Sharan. "It used to be that you'd take the data and publish it. But the ability to communicate these articles has changed; you can get a Facebook group together around the article and interact with it. A large number of impressions on our visual abstracts are coming from outside of the U.S. and they have different takes on our findings."

In his new role, Dr. Sharan is responsible for making the articles come alive and finding ways to integrate data with technology platforms that most effectively drive discussion.

"Academic journals haven't been disrupted yet," he says. "The barrier to entry is high and there is a lot of competition. How can you distinguish yourself? Many talk about impact factor, but our point is trying to be a practical journal for spine surgeons that they're comfortable with and have the information at their fingertips."

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