Medical & Scientific Journal Articles
The internet makes finding information easier than ever. That is a good thing, but can also be overwhelming. A simple Google search for lymphangiomatosis reports more than 140,000 results; Gorham’s disease over 30,000. That’s a lot of results for such rare diseases. This web site is usually listed in the top two or three hits. That may well be how you got here. (WELCOME! We’re glad you found us!) But as you look further down the list most of the results are from medical and scientific journals. Click on a link and before long you may find yourself wondering why you didn’t go to medical school like your mother wanted.
Reading medical and scientific journals is work, even for physicians, nurses, and scientists. And they have years of experience evaluating and applying information published in those journals. That is just one reason why you should take your questions to your physician. Of course they know you’re going to read everything you can get your hands on. We all do that. This page is here to help you evaluate what you read and gain confidence in your ability to determine what may be relevant to your situation.
Here you will find some basic information about the various terms you will encounter in professional journals and how to locate articles that are referenced in those journals. But what you read on the internet or in journals should never replace discussions with the professionals involved in your care. We hope you will find this to be a helpful resource, but we cannot stress enough the importance of discussing your care questions with your professional care team.
Case Reports & Case Series: What you need to know
Case Report – A case report is a detailed, descriptive study of one patient. They can be especially useful when the disease is rare or has a single cause.
Case Series – Has all the same type of information found in a case report, but includes at least two patients having the same diagnosis.
Case reports and case series play an important role in advancing the diagnosis and treatment of disease–particularly rare diseases–and in medical education. They bring attention to novel ideas for treatments and incidental discoveries of diagnostic techniques. They do not, however, tell the full story. They should be thought of in terms of building blocks; as individual pieces of a large and complex puzzle. Just as you would hold one of a thousand puzzle pieces in your hand and examine carefully the blank areas on the table for clues as to where the piece fits, so should you read a case report for clues as to how it relates to other similar reports and discuss the report with your physician.
Chances are, if you have not already, you will read a great many case reports and series. These forays into the medical literature can be exhilarating, frightening, and downright confusing. Many of the cases reported have less than hopeful outcomes. They also can inspire unparalleled hope. But mostly they offer clues, bit by bit painting a picture of things that seem to be effective and things that ultimately may do more harm than good. Your physician is the person best equipped to help you evaluate the information in case reports as it relates to your case. When you read something that seems to be relative to your particular situation or about which you simply would like to know more, talk to your doctor. Most physicians are interested in what you find in the literature and appreciate when you find something they may have missed.
If you are interested in more detailed information regarding the evaluation of case reports, click here.
Terms to Know:
Abstract – a brief summary of a scientific paper. The abstract is the first section of a journal article and contains information about the authors, the problem studied, and a brief description of the methods used to study it and the conclusions reached by the authors.
Extract – a short preview of an article in a professional journal that does not have an abstract, usually consisting of the first 100 to 150 words of the article.
Objective – the reason for the study; the problem; the central question being asked.
Hypothesis – the conclusion that the researcher speculates will result from the outcome measures. Often the hypothesis is not specifically identified in the published report, but is included as part of the objective.
Method – detailed description of how the study was conducted, where the study was conducted, and the study participants.
Results – all of the raw information collected during a study. At least some of this information is likely to be presented in tables, charts and/or graphs.
Outcome Measure – the specific method, selected when the study is designed, by which study results are evaluated. Studies may use more than one outcome measure. Depending on the objective(s) of the study, the outcome measure(s) may be mathematical equations used for statistical analysis.
Conclusion – the findings of the researcher(s) as they apply to the study group and information related to the statistical analysis of the data, called the p-value and the confidence interval, designed to assist in the evaluation of the meaning of the study conclusions to a larger population. They also have important meaning about the reliability of a study’s conclusions, but the explanation is far beyond the scope of this overview of terms. Your medical team can help you to understand what these numbers mean, should you be interested.
What is a Peer-Reviewed Journal?
A peer-reviewed journal is one whose content has been reviewed by experts in the field who evaluate the quality of the manuscript, scholarship of the author(s), and soundness of the work prior to acceptance for publication. The peers conducting the review are not members of the publication’s editorial staff. The process helps editors decide if a given article is suitable for their publication.
How does the Peer-Review Process Work?
The peer-review process begins when an article is submitted to the editors of the journal in which its authors want the article to be published. The submission then is distributed to experts in that subject. The reviewers then recommend to the editor whether the work should be published as submitted, revised, or rejected. Generally, the author does not know the identity of the reviewer. Sometimes the reviewer will not know the identity of the author(s). The reader will almost never know the identity of the reviewer.
What is the Purpose of Peer-Review?
The purpose of the peer review is to, hopefully, ensure a minimum level of quality in the scientific papers that are published. Peer reviewed papers may turn out to be flawed; they may have conflicting results. But they all serve to contribute to the formation of a body of evidence about a subject.
Are all articles contained in a Peer Reviewed journal peer reviewed?
No. Editorials, letters to the editor, and book reviews are not peer reviewed. Papers that have been presented at conferences may be published without undergoing the peer-review process. Case reports may not be peer-reviewed. Usually articles that report the findings of a biomedical or scientific study that has been completed or report intermediate findings of a long-term study are subject to the peer review process. They generally are divided into sections listing objectives, design, outcome measures, results and conclusions.
To read more detailed information about peer-review, visit Wikipedia.
How to Locate Research Papers
Many journal articles can be accessed online. No doubt you have already found some of them. The problem comes in gaining access to the complete article. Some publications grant access to full text articles that were published prior to a given date or that, for example, are more than 10 years old. But accessing current full-text articles generally requires a subscription to the publication or the payment of a one-time access fee, which can be as much as $60 per article. There may be rare occasion when that is the only way to get the full-text article, but usually the article can be retrieved for much less.
The first thing to consider is whether or not you even need to read the full-text article. The vast majority of articles include an abstract which is available online at no cost. Always read the abstract. Often the information contained in the abstract is enough to help you decide if you want to read more. If you decide you want to read the full-text, there are a few ways to go about locating a copy.
Your Physician – ask your physician to help you get a copy of the article you wish to read. He may already subscribe to the journal and can loan or print you a copy of the piece, or perhaps his colleagues can help him obtain a copy for you.
Medical School Library – If you live in or near a city where a medical school is located, you have access to hundreds of publications and printed resources. Most medical school libraries allow visitors to use their facilities. If the library does not subscribe to the particular journal you wish to read, ask the librarian to help you get a copy of the issue you want. Most libraries have agreements with other libraries that allows them to borrow materials. Keep in mind, these journals are housed in the research section of the library and are not “checked out” to anyone; they must be read on site. You generally may xerox anything you want to take home for a small fee.
State University Libraries – If you do not live near a medical school, consult the nearest campus library of your state’s university system. The librarians in the research section may be able to borrow items from the medical school library.
What is a citation and how do I read it?
The information needed to locate an article or book referenced by an author is called a citation. Its purpose is to give proper credit to the original source of an idea and to help the reader locate the original source material for more information about the subject. In professional journals sourced information is identified within the text by the placement of a superscript number that corresponds to the full listing at the end of the article.
There is a standard format for citations that begins with the author’s name(s). The first name listed is usually that of the most senior member of the team publishing the article. This person is called the lead author. Next will be the title of the work, followed by the title of the journal in which it appears and the year of publication, ending with the volume and page numbers in which the article will be found.
Now we will dissect a citation for you, to show how to read them. This citation was chosen because it is short, and no endorsement of its content is implied.
Canil K., Fitzgerald P., Lau G. Massive chylothorax associated with lymphangiomatosis of the bone. J Pediatr Surg 1994;29:1186-1188.
Canil K., Fitzgerald P., Lau G. – authors
Massive chylothorax associated with lymphangiomatosis of the bone. – full title of article
J Pediatr Surg. (abbreviation for the Journal of Pediatric Surgery) – name of publishing journal, usually abbreviated for space.
1994;29:1186-1188. – this means the article was published in 1994, volume 29, on pages 1186-1188.
In order to locate this article in the library, you will begin with the name of the publication, then find the year and volume. Turn to the page of that volume listed in the citation and there will be the article.