Friday, August 6, 2010

Staying Up-to-date with Blogs and Medical Literature

There is no debate that we are all swamped with data being sent to us via e-mail and we often feel like we are drowning in this deluge.  This can cause several problems:
  1. The stress generated by trying to keep up
  2. Time spent/wasted going through unwanted/useless e-mails
  3. Difficulty in separating the wheat from the chaff - the signal-noise ratio is getting progressively lower.  
  4. Missing out on critical information that gets buried amongst other useless data - losing the proverbial needle in the haystack
The solution is to get some control over the e-mails being sent to you and increasing the signal to noise ratio.  One way to do this is RSS (Real Simple Syndication).  This solution has been around for a long time and several of you may have heard of it or use it already.  The reason I write about this today is to point out how you can use this functionality to: 
  1. Get updates from blogs that you find interesting - using this blog as an example.
  2. Get updates from journals in your area of interest - using medical education journals as an example.
  3. Presently we are sending out e-mails to a vast group of people (about 1000) and we don't want to add to the deluge problems listed above.  So if users start subscribing to this blog, we can stop sending out e-mails to folks who may not want to receive them.
So what is RSS?
A simple way to think about it is to compare junk mail that fills up our mail boxes with subscriptions to magazines and newspapers.  RSS is a way to subscribe (for FREE) to information streams that you want.  Again this is FREE and most blogs and journals provide a way to subscribe to their updates, abstracts etc. but you do need a way to receive this stream.  There are multiple options but the one that I use is called Google Reader.  It works for me because:
  • It is accessible via any browser and most data enabled mobile devices 
  • It lets me share items from my subscriptions with others in multiple ways
  • It lets me create a simple way to share my subscriptions with others (we will see this shortly)
  • It takes advantage of Google's search engine
  • It allows classification and organization of the data in multiple ways.
  • I already have a Google account and use various Google applications like Gmail, Blogger and Buzz.
  • I am (almost) always plugged into the Net and thus don't need to store these subscriptions on my hard drive - easier to leave them in the "Cloud" and access them from anywhere.
  • I don't want the data to get interspersed with my regular work applications like Outlook.  I prefer to choose when I want to review this information (like reading the NY Times on a Sunday morning).
So if these seem like reasonable reasons, then read on.

Subscribing to blogs:
This blog has two ways to subscribe to it
  1. Just enter your e-mail address where you want to get notified of new posts on this blog and follow the steps. You can then set up rules in your e-mail inbox to handle these messages in a specific manner e.g. move them to a folder.
  2. Use RSS.  Make sure you have a Google account (create one HERE).  At the top right corner of this blog is a link to Subscribe to Posts or Comments.  Click on the down arrow next to it and choose Google.  On the next screen choose Google reader.  You may have to sign in using your Google account and then you will be taken to the Google Reader screen with a summary of posts from this blog.  You can use the same steps with most other blogs.
Subscribing to Journals:
There are several ways to subscribe to journals

  1. Use a subscription bundle created by someone else.  I have created a bundle of medical education journals.  You can access and preview it HERE. It has feeds of abstracts from 7 journals including Academic Medicine, Teaching and Learning in Medicine, Medical Education etc. Click on subscribe to get these feeds into YOUR Google Reader. That's it, you are done! My bundle of Medicine Journals is accessible HERE
  2. In Google Reader you can click on the down arrow next to Subscriptions and click on Add Subscriptions and then type in name of Journal.  Some journals may have multiple listings while others may not show up.
  3. On the Journal Web site, there is a button to subscribe to RSS feed.  Clicking on this may give you a an option to subscribe using google reader.  Others may take you to a page with the feed.  Copy the URL of that page and paste it into the add subscription box mentioned in step 2 above
  4. If the Journal website does not have an RSS button, go to PubMed and type in name of journal.  Then click on RSS (top of page orange button).  Click create RSS and then click XML.  On the page that loads, copy the URL of the page and then paste it into the add subscription text box mentioned in step 2.
You can use the PubMed step to create a custom query (search) and save the RSS feed to Google Reader.  Thus if you area of interest is prosthetic valve infections you can create a feed for this and get an abstract of any article indexed by PubMed on this topic.

Almost done; now you have to just remember to go back periodically to review all this information flowing into Google Reader.  If you want to read up more about how I personally use Google Reader to tag and classify and search for information click HERE and HERE.


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