Can Traditional Journals Keep Up With Digital Health Research?


The realm of digital health has garnered a high amount of interest in the medical sphere and pushed for validated research demonstrating its impact in patient care.  While this research will undoubtedly confirm the use of mobile technology in medical practice, the question becomes whether the dissemination of research through traditional means is enough. For instance, Case and Colleagues’ recent article in JAMA regarding the accuracy of wearable devices and mobile apps has led to both positive and negative acclaim in the media. One criticism leveled against the research letter is based upon the use of ‘outdated’ devices and that newer devices are currently available. In a sense, the results of the research may have been accurate at the time (2014), but cannot keep up with rapid developments of technology in such a short time period. Researchers seeking to test the effectiveness of digital health tools face the burden of maintaining relevance when devices face multiple updates and releases that may invalidate or date the timeliness of such interventions.

One example would be the substantial interest in Google Glass since its public release in 2013. Many researchers were quick to implement or test the use of Glass in clinical scenarios and, since then, are slowly moving to publication with their results. However, Glass has been removed from the market, and while it may return to the medical sphere in the future, it could be an altogether different product. This is a problem many researchers in the digital health sphere will face, and they must question whether new apps or devices will come the market during the course of research and publication that may minimize the impact of their research.

Many medical journals recognize the role of digital health and interest to readers and will most likely continue to publish these types of research. The issue will be the timeliness of publication and longevity of its relevance. Editors and reviewers will most likely face the task of not only reviewing the relevance of currently submitted works, but also the long-term benefit and likelihood of being cited. Factoring into this equation is the other issue of time to review, revise, and resubmit any manuscript, which can also pose a barrier.

Altogether, while traditional means of publishing medical research is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, the realm of digital health research may find itself limited by its slow motion. Possible solutions include alternative means of conducting research to quicken the process, a revised mechanism of review, or a new means of introducing research and manuscripts to readers in a format that can keep pace with quick developments.