An Assessment of Research Productivity Among US Departments of Family Medicine

Submitted on Mon, 07/06/2020 - 12:57

A vibrant and rich research enterprise is vital to family physicians and other primary care providers, enabling them to find answers to questions relevant to services provided to patients, in all stages of health. Extensive literature that captures research productivity across a number of topics, countries and disciplines is regularly used in hiring, annual reviews, promotion and grants.

Measurement of publication productivity in family medicine has been reported only sporadically through various methods and with different purposes in mind. In a 2015 study using Web of Science, researchers concluded that US family medicine faculty published 3002 times during that year. A previous study comparing design quality for research papers, with at least one family medicine author and published between 2000 and 2005, found research quality had not improved during this time. Another study assessing the productivity of Society of Teachers of Family Medicine members found that a higher percentage of members published in 2009 than in 1999. These studies reveal the diverseness of data sources, authors, journals, and publication types of past reports, highlighting the need for consistency to provide an accurate account of publication productivity in family medicine.

In a recent study, researchers compared three methods of capturing productivity in an attempt to identify the advantages and disadvantages of each method, used alone or in combination. Their work, as stated in the study, provides the empirical assessment needed to develop a meaningful and practical methodology for measuring research productivity that could be replicated periodically across all US family medicine departments in academic schools in a longitudinal manner, likely to be transferable to other countries, allowing for international comparisons.

The cross-sectional analysis, which included 13 family medicine departments active in research, compared three methods for capturing research publication productivity of US departments of family medicine: faculty-to-publications, publications-to-faculty, and department-reported publications. Combing all three methods across all departments, 32% of faculty had any publication in 2015, with a mean number of 1.4 publications per faculty. The percentage of faculty publications in 2015 ranged from 16% to 82.6%, with two departments averaging over four publications per faculty member. Over 90% of Chairs published in 2015, whereas 66% of Professors published. Sixty percent of total publications were identified through a method that uses websites and Web of Science alone, compared to 40% identified using PubMed alone. Combining these two methods identified 71% of all publications for the study.

This project brought together expert informants from multiple leading family medicine departments, support from a major scholarly organization, and explored traditional and novel methods for tracking family medicine research productivity. Combining all three methods allowed the most comprehensive view of publication productivity and revealing the errors inherent in each individual method. Researchers noted that using a robust method to track productivity over time is critical to academic family medicine’s future, emphasizing the importance of investing resources in improving the discipline’s research enterprise.

Winston Liaw, MD, MPH, one of the paper’s authors, adds “The family medicine research community needs to study itself in order to learn from bright spots and continue to grow. We hope that this study provides the guidance needed for our discipline to consistently document our achievements and impact.”

The full article, Advancing bibliometric assessment of research productivity: an analysis of US Departments of Family Medicine, can be found by clicking here.