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Research leads to changes in our clinical practice, but all doctors have different approaches to tackling the constant barrage of information and new evidence. However, those practitioners who are constantly changing treatments once they come across some new theory or research data may not necessarily be doing their patients a service. For example, most paediatricians will take more notice of a randomised controlled trial about blood transfusion in a mainstream journal such as BMJ rather than a single case report found in an obscure transfusion journal. Teaching is another useful method of keeping up to date as it encourages one to investigate the latest developments. Furthermore, junior doctors import new helpful techniques and ideas from other units where they have previously worked.
The peer review process helps to weed out the majority of poorly constructed papers and those with serious statistical or ethical problems, but such systems are far from perfect. For example, on occasion an editor may be tempted to by-pass peer review on the grounds that a paper contains important data that should be in the public domain as soon as possible. The world output of medical literature is vast and expands at an exponential rate, and most of us who are busy clinicians do not have the time to read more than a few journals on a regular basis. It is therefore easy to miss important papers that may be relevant to one’s own area of practice.
Review papers in journals by experts are helpful in pulling together relevant information and are an efficient use of our precious time. Hopefully, the editor will pick a clinician who knows their field well, can write clearly and is able to give a balanced view. Another technique adopted by editors is to publish an editorial or commentary by an expert …
Competing interests: None.