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Liberating the literature

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December 2013

A look back at 2013

As 2013 comes to an end I find myself being reflective and wanted to share the disappointments and highlights of the year.  I’ll also glance forward into 2014 and see what that might bring…

Disappointments.  It can’t all the be plain sailing and there have been a few disappointments:

  • Continued financial insecurity, what can I say about this – it’s the same every year!
  • Professorship.  It was very nice – while it lasted – but an academic I’ve worked we suggested I apply for an honorary professorship at their university.  My application passed through the first two rounds but came unstuck at the last round.
  • Employment.  Trip is not may main day job – I work for the NHS in Wales.  Within our organisation they have been creating an Evidence Service, something I was very keen to lead.  However, in the middle of the month I was unsuccessful in securing the ‘top job’ and will therefore have no role in the service.  

As my Mother would say: ‘it could be worse, you could be dying’! So we need to keep the above in context.

Triumphs. Thankfully there are a significant number of these and these more than outweigh the above disappointments.  A few highlights below:

  • 4 million searches of Trip from around the globe
  • The Trip advisory group have been invaluable and I appreciate all the input I’ve received.
  • Leaflets have finally been produced and I was particularly pleased to have them translated into Spanish by Netzahualpilli Delgado Figueroa and Daniel Gonzalez Padilla (from the advisory group).
  • The ability of link from Trip to an institutions full-text articles, something I’ve struggled with for years.  We currently have over 300 institutions signed up to this feature.
  • Trip has been involved in two main bits of research this year, both have been spectacular.  Firstly, my hunch about the social networks of articles has been proved right.  Secondly, my work on clinician similarity and the potential to improve search has again been a great success.  The trick with both of these is to roll them out onto Trip and improve search performance!
  • Rapid reviews. This is been a great source of intellectual challenge for me, building on my 15 years experience in the area of clinical question answering.  In March I presented at the wonderful EvidenceLive conference in Oxford, the title of my talk being ‘Anarchism, Punk and EBM’.  It was a broad critique of Cochrane and was written up as a blog article, which has now been read over 8,000 times.  It has led to me submitting a large research grant application to the NIHR and numerous invitations to take part in projects around rapid reviews from around the World.
  • Ultra-rapid reviews. With our usual low-budget we created a world-first, a five minute system to review and synthesize multiple research articles.  Not quite, but nearly, a five minute systematic review.
  • Call me superficial, but it was very nice to see myself being quoted by a hero of mine Iain Chalmers in his address to the Cochrane Colloquium!  Also, in the Christmas edition of the BMJ I was name-checked, at various points, by Richard Smith.

But a constant joy for me, and this has been the same for me over the years, is the new relationships I make as a result of Trip.  I get daily emails from health professionals and/or information experts reaching out, offering advice, support and praise.

2014, the future

This is a bit harder to predict, so I’ll keep this brief:

  • I am very keen to obtain security for Trip and investment to roll-out both the social networks of articles and the clinician similarity measures.  I am fortunate that I have three separate avenues to explore – one in early January.  
  • I really need to write a follow-up to my Critique of Cochrane and to further explore the place of systematic reviews.
  • Answer engine – fingers crossed we can roll this out, albeit modestly to start with.
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TILT – my biggest regret

This post signaled my biggest professional disappointment!  A key phrase being:

I think it’s fair to say that it has failed

TILT stood for ‘Today I Learnt That’ and in a nutshell allows health professionals to record things they’ve learnt recently.  A longer explanation can be viewed here.  Some examples of recorded learning being:

  • The commonest causes of postural hypotension are medications and conditions that cause hypovolaemia
  • Even after extensive evaluation, about a third of patients with persistent, consistent postural hypotension have no identified cause

Why do I like it?  These are nuggets of learning/evidence that have typically been distilled from a larger document.  The person TILTing has removed all the unnecessary background information and just recorded what’s important to them.  Also, the user will only record what they previously didn’t know – so fresh learning that’s likely to be valuable to others.

In this post I highlighted while I think it failed. I think things have moved on since then, in relation to the notion of sharing.  Design has moved on as well.  But I still think the main reasons for failure are the same.  In a nutshell it needs to be easier to use and we need to communicate what we’re trying to achieve better.

Can we do it?  Is it worth it?  I want it to happen but sometimes you’ve got to know when to stop.  I guess I’ll be seeking opinions to see what people think – so let me know.  If it works it’ll be magic, but it’s a big ‘if’!

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