Peer-reviewed publications:
do physicians still actually read them?


  • Significant amounts of time, effort, and money go into publishing peer-reviewed medical articles
  • However, there is a growing perception that health-care professionals (HCPs) no longer read medical literature1
  • So, do HCPs still actually read peer-reviewed articles? And if so, do they help inform clinical practice?


  • To understand the role of peer-reviewed publications in communicating clinical data to HCPs


  • An anonymous online survey was conducted between December 11–18, 2017
  • Respondents included primary care physicians and oncologists evenly distributed across the USA and EU5 countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK)
  • HCPs were included irrespective of their publication history and received reimbursement of $10−31 for survey completion


HCPs included in the survey

Sample size: 108 HCPs

  • 53% oncologists; 47% PCPs
  • 53% from EU5; 47% from USA
Number of years practicing medicine

81% of respondents had no previous experience with pharma or a professional medical writer in developing a medical publication and 79% had authored ≤10 previous publications

How often and why do HCPs access clinical information in peer-reviewed publications?

Triggers for reading

But do peer-reviewed publications influence clinical practice?

Peer-reviewed articles directly influence clinical decision-making

Often/very often 54%

Occasionally 43%

Aside from journal articles, how do HCPs access clinical data?

How do HCPs think the communication of clinical data could be improved?

How do HCPs think published clinical data could be more interactive?


In this cohort, peer-reviewed literature was a valued source of clinical information that influences clinical decisions

Proper publication planning and execution remains a vital channel to effectively communicate clinical evidence to HCPs

Several barriers, including journal paywalls, limit the communication of clinical data to HCPs

Medical publication professionals should actively seek and promote the use of journals with suitable open-access options

HCPs want faster, easier access to clinical trial data and publications

Communicating clinical information through additional channels that allow easier engagement, e.g. online apps, is likely to improve reach to HCPs


  1. Packer M. 2018. Available at:
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Peer-reviewed publications are seen as the “gold standard” for sharing clinical trial data, but how we access information is changing. We sought to re-evaluate their importance in communicating clinical data to health-care professionals (HCPs).

Research design and methods

Primary care physicians (PCPs) and oncologists from all EU5 countries and the USA completed an anonymous internet-based survey examining access, reading behaviors, and the impact of clinical data published in peer-reviewed journals.


108 HCPs from EU5 (53%) and the USA (47%) were included; 47% were PCPs and 53% were oncologists; 55% of respondents had developed ≤5 peer-reviewed publications. Journal articles (89%), guidelines (84%), and discussion with colleagues (70%) were the key information sources guiding clinical decision-making. Publication in a high-impact, peer-reviewed journal was the most important factor for journal articles in guiding clinical decision-making (84%). Most respondents read peer-reviewed publications on a weekly basis (38%), compared with daily (29%), monthly (27%), or rarely (6%); key barriers to reading were lack of time (61%), the volume of literature (60%), and paywalls (47%). Respondents commonly reported discussing or sharing articles directly with colleagues (52%) rather than commenting on journal websites (20%) or using social media (23%). Written journal communications (28% vs. 4%) and commenting on a journal website (32% vs. 8%) were done more frequently by oncologists than PCPs, respectively.


Peer-reviewed publications remain an important information source that influences clinical decision-making among HCPs. Despite increasing digitalization, face-to-face discussions remain pivotal for sharing information. Easier access and initiatives that allow content to be consumed quickly are important to overcome barriers to clinical data reaching HCPs.