Two years ago, RCVS Knowledge took up the gauntlet of keeping veterinary professionals up to date with the growing body of evidence to support their decision making.
A plan was hatched to provide the profession with concise summaries of the most important and interesting articles from veterinary journals, delivered online every two months, free of charge, and including links to full text articles for members of the RCVS Knowledge Library. The result was inFOCUS, the veterinary profession’s first journal watch.
Twelve issues and 7,500 subscribers later, Sally Everitt, the Chair of inFOCUS’s Clinical Review Team, looks at why the service was set up, what goes on behind the scenes to continually keep track of new evidence, and some plans for the future.
So why is this service necessary?
Research in the 1980s indicated that it was only necessary to review a small number of journals to keep up to date with advances in veterinary medicine. In the case of small animal practice it was suggested that it would be possible to keep up with new information by reading five journals (The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association; The Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association; Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice; Compendium on Continuing Education; and the Journal of Small Animal Practice), an average of about one journal a week[i].
However, since then the number of journals has increased significantly. In 2006 it was suggested that a core collection would include 49 veterinary medicine journals[ii]. Now the staff at the RCVS Knowledge Library and Information Service watch over 100 journals in order to identify those articles that are most relevant, important and interesting, and highlight them in bi-monthly issues of inFOCUS.
Who is involved?
The Clinical Review Team is made up of veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses with a range of experience and expertise. For every edition of inFOCUS, they score each of the articles against set criteria relating to relevance, quality and potential impact in practice. The top-scoring articles are then reviewed and summarised.
While the process is quite straightforward in theory, in practice there are a number of challenges to producing a journal watch of this kind.
What are the challenges?
Despite our best efforts, there are far too many papers published for us to look at them all, and even if we did there would be too many summaries for those in practice to read.
One solution is to include review articles and guidelines among the papers that we summarise. While these types of articles often score highly in terms of relevance and potential impact in practice, they may be too long and contain too much information to be easily implemented in practice. Some of the small animal guidelines are so long that they are presented in multiple papers, so in order to make them more accessible we are trialling a new format – see our Spotlight on antithrombotics in small animal practice. Another change we’ve made is to include links to our latest summaries of guidelines on the homepage of the inFOCUS website.
We also understand that people have different information needs and we cannot provide summaries to cover all eventualities. We hope that seeing how we summarise papers will give others the confidence to go and look at the literature themselves. In order to make it easier to see how we have assessed the papers, we try to write the summaries to answer the following questions:
- What is the aim of the study or paper? (E.g. what question is being asked or answered?)
- How was the study or review carried out? (E.g. the study methodology, the literature search strategy and who was involved in developing guidelines.)
- What were the findings? (Including the results or recommendations.)
- What are the limitations?
- What is the take home message? (Including the bottom line for implementation in practice.)
For those who would like to critically appraise papers for themselves, RCVS Knowledge has a range of support materials in the EBVM Toolkit.
Want to help?
We also need to make sure that the papers that we are summarising are those most likely to have an impact in practice. Our 20-strong Clinical Review Team strive to make sure that the papers we are summarising are those most likely to have an impact in practice. But we can always do with more expertise, particularly on farming, equine and nursing.
If you are interested in becoming a reviewer, please fill in this short form with your details and specialism.
Although we choose papers that we think will be relevant and important, we really need feedback from those who receive inFOCUS.
If you have any comments on the summaries or on the types of papers that you would like us to include, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] White, M.E. (1987) An analysis of journal citation frequency in the Consultant data base for computer-assisted diagnosis J Am Vet Med Assoc 190(9) pp 1098-1101
[ii] Crawley-Low, J. (2006) Bibliometric analysis of the American Journal of Veterinary Research to produce a list of core veterinary medicine journals J Med Lib Assoc 94(4) pp 430-434