TWELVE YEARS EXPERIENCE WITH AN INNOVATIVE JOURNAL OF FAMILY AND COMMUNITY MEDICINE: A SELF-ASSESSMENT APPROACH
The Journal of Family and Community Medicine, the official scientific publication of the Saudi Society of Family and Community Medicine is one of the first journals of its kind in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. It is an international peer-reviewed journal and is one of the pioneering journals in this specialty. It came into being in 1994 with a vision of becoming a leader in medical journalism in the field of Family and Community Medicine, with a commitment to relevance and excellence. Medical journals either in the traditional hard copies or in electronic forms are still major sources of information. Publication in medicine continues to feature as a key component of academic excellence.1 The problems facing editors in journals could be classified into two: those with mainstream journals and small journals. While the mainstream journals have problems with authorship vs. contributors, a conflict of interest, or ethical issues in relation to research and publication, the editors of small medical journals have more fundamental problems such as the lack of an infrastructure for running a journal, insufficient funding, lack of expertise in developed publishing, low visibility, and problems with absorbing high-quality research articles.2
In 2003, the conference of a group of editors of biomedical journals published in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean recognized that regardless of the social, cultural, political and economic status of their countries editors have similar problems.3
Are we on the right track after 12 years of publishing? In an attempt to answer this question, we applied a self-assessment approach for our journal aiming at strengthening the successes and reducing difficulties and obstacles. A primary readership survey that was conducted through a mailed questionnaire sent to all subscribers of the journal. The subscribers were members of the Saudi Society of Family and Community Medicine. The response rate was 46%.
Besides the readership survey, we used the journal's records and archives to answer some of the questions in the self-assessment and to derive certain performance indicators.
The most significant result of the readers' survey was that on the average, for every primary professional reader in his field, there were five other qualified professionals who had access to that primary reader's copy. The print circulation of the journal was around 3000 per issue. However, the readers' survey showed that each primary reader passed his/her copy to five or more secondary readers giving a print circulation of up to 15000 readers or more. Two year ago, we started online publishing through the website of Saudi Society of Family and Community Medicine. This has increased to the readership of the journal considerably. This method could be evaluated by what is called average hits per month which is the number of hits made by readers and authors. Although the number of hits is considered an important measure of performance, we did not have the electronic facilities that would enable us to make this measurement. We look forward to installing these in the near future and only then can we have concrete evidence of the size of readership of the journal.
The second significant result of the survey was that almost 40% of the respondents identified themselves as "the key decision maker in many primary care facility". We could therefore assume that by virtue of its scientific value, our journal can help its readers to improve the quality of service.
Our journal is a publishing forum for authors from different disciplines and specialties. The pattern of titles from different disciplines was as follows: 56% family and community Medicine / primary health care, 7.4% internal medicine, 6.5% pediatric and child health, 6.5% medical education, in addition to a few manuscripts on dermatology, laboratory medicine, psychiatry, surgery and other specialties. This indicates that readership is wider and not limited to those in family and community medicine. It also indicates that the journal could become a means of publicizing and popularizing issue that are of vital interest in family and community medicine amongst specialists in other disciplines. This is very important as it would be hopefully improve the understanding of family and community medicine amongst other health professionals.
The average number of the submitted manuscripts per volume was 29 (327/12) with an average annual increase of around one per year, which is far below our expectations (Figure 1). However, there is no need for anxiety about the lack of steady annual increase in papers submitted as this not necessarily a true measure of progress. Submissions to some reputable journals have decreased over the years.4
The average rate of increase in number of pages published in the journal per volume was 8.5, which is constant. This may be due to the limited resources available and/or the limited number of manuscripts submitted. However, it has been said that growth in the thickness of a journal is not necessarily a healthy sign but may be a reflection of the ineptitude of an editorial team.5
Over the past 12 years, we have managed to go to print in time as much as possible, despite, such limitations as finance, staff and infrastructure and other limitations. We have, therefore, succeeded in creating and continuously updating a sizable list of reviewers for the journal from within and outside Saudi Arabia. We have also persuaded distinguished scholars to write a wide range of editorials.
In the absence of a peer-reviewed journal on medical education in Saudi Arabia and probably the region, we have allocated a regular section on medical education in our journal as a forum for the publication of relevant manuscripts. A computer program for online submission, reviewing and distribution is being planned and it is hoped that the submission rate would increase, the readership would expand and the publication lag for processing manuscripts to be shortened.
Although financial profitability is considered "the most concrete measure of performance",6 our journal is still distributed free of charge. We still do not advertise. Our ability to take advantage of the latest developments in technology is hampered by the lack of a budget and technical facilities.Our experience has been encouraging but we try to learn from our mistakes and improve on our performance. It shows that meager resources need not be a disabling obstacle in trying to produce a medical journal for there is an urgent need to do so.
Figure 1:The submitted and accepted manuscripts distributed by volume
1. Rajasoorya C. Snapshots of editing a medical journal. Singapore Med J 2003;44(12):610-13.
2. Fame CE. An initiative to promote local medical research publishing. African Medical Journal 2004;25(suppl 1):S34.
3. First association of medical editors for Eastern Mediterranean Region. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2003;81:922.
4. Huth EJ, Case K. Annals of Internal Medicine at age 75: reflections on the past 25 years. Ann Intern Med 2002;137:34-45.
5. Fox T. Crisis in communication. London:The Atholone Press;1965:20.
6. Tobin MJ. Assessing the performance of a medical journal (Editorial). American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 2004;169:1268-72.
Professor of Family and Community Medicine
& Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Family & Community Medicine
Hassan Abu Gad
Associate Professor of Occupational Medicine
& Associate Editor, Journal of Family & Community Medicine