Thursday, May 19, 2005

AMNews no longer online?

MedGadget writes that the online version of "The Newspaper for America's Physicians", the AMNews, is soon to be taken offline for non-AMA members. I happen to be a non-AMA member, having dropped my membership during medical school due to the overwhelmingly liberal slant of the organization. So, I really don't have any standing to complain about their services (or lack thereof) at this point.

However, I would say that at this point in time, the unprecedented ease with which people can get information should change the way that large, highly visible organizations should approach the dissemination of their facts to the public. In the response to MedGadget's post, the editor of AMNews states

American Medical News is principally designed to be a newspaper offering useful news and information for and about physicians. In meeting that commitment to our readers, we report on a wide variety of topics, certainly among them the policies and activities of the AMA. We at AMNews hope that we have a valuable offering that would be of interest to virtually every practicing physician in America.

That said, the cost of presenting AMNews online is borne almost entirely by AMA members and is offset only somewhat by ad revenue. The decision was made, therefore, that members should benefit from their support by retaining access to the site. In the same spirit of rewarding those who underwrite the publication, paid print subscribers will also be allowed online access.

This is where I have a policy difference with the AMA --- as well as the American College of Surgeons, and other groups which represent large numbers of physicians. While information is easy to find, good information is hard to come by unless you know exactly what you are looking for, and have a very discriminating eye. I feel the AMA members -- and ACS members as well -- would be well served by regular publication of medical data and policy statements that are readily available to member and non-member physicians, as well as the general public. If, for example, it is the policy of organization "X" that government run health care coverage is crazy, the organization should say that clearly, in as many forms as possible, and allow people to make up their own minds. While it doesn't make sense to discuss the latest phase I trial for melanoma in this manner, these publications generally stick to articles dealing with either policy issues or well-established therapies.

What is interesting to me is that this decision is occurring at a time that many publications are being made much more widely available online, as is pointed out here. I hope that all medical organizations take a long-term view of this, and realize that their putting on their best "public face" can generate good end results.