JC: Drinking From the Firehose – Keeping Up with the Literature

You’ve probably heard the claim that the body of scientific knowledge is growing at an alarming rate – doubling every 9 years is a recent estimate. It’s easy to hear your colleagues chatting about recent publications as if they’re the new Taylor Swift song (something you’ve never even heard of, unless you’re a Carley) and feel overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible task of keeping up-to-date.

It feels a bit like this:


Using FOAM resources and social media like Twitter is one way to feel less overwhelmed – people like the awesome Minh Le Cong (who seems to have an infinite amount of time) tweet links to interesting papers, acting as a first line sieve to identify the things you might be interested in, while resources like EMLit of Note, Critical Care Reviews, Life in the Fast Lane’s Research & Reviews and the Bottom Line share appraisals of the articles themselves. At St Emlyn’s we try to do our bit too, with our regular Journal Club blog posts. Of course we would never suggest that exclusive use of blogs and podcasts should replace your own reading – it’s important that you take the time to read research and appraise it yourself, we’re just here to help point you in the direction we think is interesting/relevant/useful (and to help with critical appraisal tips).

If you’ve got a spare couple of hours, check out these FOAM legends talking about the challenges of social media/life balance at SMACC 2013 and have a think about how social media can support our professional development. Lots of wisdom here.

At the extreme end of the scale there’s Scott Weingart, who reads a zillion articles a day. We all know he’s superhuman and someone we should aspire to emulate so you might also want to listen to this podcast on how he gets things done!

But there are a couple of other things we do at St Emlyn’s to keep track of what’s been published – the raw, unappraised literature – and we thought it might help you if we share them.

PubMed Alerts

Full credit for this goes to the legend that is Rick Body – the only reason I know how to do this is because he taught me! Below is a step-by-step guide to setting up personalised PubMed email alerts. I’ve included Rick’s preferences and my own journal list (which includes a few additional paeds-focussed journals).

Go to www.pubmed.com

Set up a personal account and sign in (sign into NCBI – top right of the screen. You can sign in with a google account or create a separate account for PubMed)

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 10.37.38

Paste a search strategy into the search bar…

Rick’s search strategy

((((((((“Emergency medicine journal : EMJ”[Journal]) OR “Annals of emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “Academic emergency medicine : official journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine”[Journal]) OR “The American journal of emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “The Journal of emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “European journal of emergency medicine : official journal of the European Society for Emergency Medicine”[Journal]) OR “Resuscitation”[Journal]) OR “Injury”[Journal]) OR “Emergency medicine Australasia : EMA”[Journal]

Nat’s search strategy

((((((((“Pediatric emergency care”[Journal] OR “Pediatric critical care medicine : a journal of the Society of Critical Care Medicine and the World Federation of Pediatric Intensive and Critical Care Societies”[Journal] OR “Archives of Disease in Childhood”[Journal] OR “Emergency medicine journal : EMJ”[Journal]) OR “Annals of emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “Academic emergency medicine : official journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine”[Journal]) OR “The American journal of emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “The Journal of emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “European journal of emergency medicine : official journal of the European Society for Emergency Medicine”[Journal]) OR “Resuscitation”[Journal]) OR “Injury”[Journal]) OR “Emergency medicine Australasia : EMA”[Journal]

Simon takes a different approach and runs several searches with different time intervals to space out different areas of interest. A selection of these search strategies is shown below. The searches based on trial design and subject headings often bring up relevant papers in journals that you might not consider to be ‘core’ EM journals.

  • (emergency medicine) AND randomized controlled trial
  • (emergency medicine) AND evidence based medicine
  • (((((((((((((“annals of emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “academic emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “emj”[Journal]) OR “ema”[Journal]) OR “american journal of emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “Resuscitation”[Journal]) OR “European journal of emergency medicine : official journal of the European Society for Emergency Medicine”[Journal]) OR “Injury”[Journal]) OR “The Journal of trauma”[Journal])) OR “Pediatric emergency care”[Journal]) OR “Clinical pediatric emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “International journal of emergency medicine”[Journal]) OR “Emergency medicine clinics of North America”[Journal]
  • (emergency medicine) AND head injury
  • gestalt (Ed – no really he does have a search strategy just on Gestalt)
  • (emergency department) AND acute coronary syndrome
  • (ophthalmology) AND emergency medicine

Within the St.Emlyn’s team the slightly different approaches is a strength and you may want to team up with colleagues to ensure that your ‘group’ covers the breadth of interest you want.

Hit “Search”, then when the results come up you’ll see an option below the search bar to save the search.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 10.36.39

This should bring up a screen that gives you the option of having the search repeated automatically and the titles emailed to you however regularly you want them to be.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 10.23.19

Once you’ve set it up, you’ll know everything that’s published in an Emergency Medicine journal. Have a look through the options – I get a daily digest of everything published (maximum 200 items although there have never been 200 in one day!) with abstracts included where possible.

The downside of this approach is it’s an email to read every day/week/month – sometimes there are two articles, sometimes a lot more.

Archive the emails. You may want to keep track of the pubmed searches. There are lots of ways to do this. You can simply create an email folder and store them there (create an inbox rule to move them automatically). Simon likes to send them to evernote and keep them in a folder there for easy access, archive and searching (see Scott Weingart’s awesome post on Getting Things Done to explain how and why you should do this).

RSS Feed Readers

Journals also produce RSS feeds (as do websites with regularly updated content, like news sites and blogs).

Below is a video I created for the Social Media workshop at SMACC Gold which shows how you can use an RSS Feed Reader like Feedly to collate all the RSS feeds you are interested in in one place. The advantage is you can read it all at once – the downside is you have to actually log in and do it!

If RSS feeds still seem totally alien to you we’ll be offering face-to-face support at the Social Media workshop at SMACC US in Chicago – come along to Join the FOAM Party!

join the FOAM party!

Do you have any other ideas on how to stay on top of the published literature? We’d love to hear them!




Other resources from people we know (or believe) use similar strategies



  1. drkirstyc

    Great summary Nat. With my areas of interest (prognostics, health services research, patient and staff perceptions) I tend to find relevant stuff in the most surprising of places (you mean you don’t read Social Science and Medicine regularly? Tut!).

    So my technique is to subscribe to individual eTOCs from the specific journals – these can be quickly skimmed (usually whilst walking across the car park on the way to work) and the ones with relevant papers reallocated to a specific inbox file for downloading/reading later.

    Keep up the good work


  2. Tom Roper

    Excellent strategies; I’d also suggest talking to your library and knowledge service. They will offer tailored current awareness services such as our KnowledgeShare service, and can advise on eTOC (table of contents) services, and more. PubMed, good as it is, and easy to access, is not the whole of the literature. I’d advise setting up alerts in Embase too; a Clinical Librarian can show you how.

  3. Graham Johnson (@gdj043)

    BMJ evidence updates are good, a nice steady stream. The app “Read” by QxMD has absolutely revolutionised the way that I read and keep papers. Much like the Pubmed alerts etc you can have collections on there. There are a few EM collections that people have set up that you can subscribe to. Combine with a decent Athens account and you get access to loads.

  4. Chris Merritt

    For pediatric EM, Itai Shavit deserves some props for maintaining the pemdatabase.org site, which has weekly updates on all things PEM-centric. Invaluable tool for me.

  5. Tom Mitchell

    Looks like Graham beat me to recommending the Read app by QXMD. It has iOS, Android and web browser versions and allows you to subscribe for journals using your Athens password, browse titles and abstracts quickly and then (ideally) download the full text PDF with one click. You can save this offline to a public/private folder or share it with colleagues. Unfortunately EMJ doesn’t seem to work so certainly not perfect but good for those high impact/relevance journals.

    Read: Personalized Medical & Scientific Journal by QxMD Medical Software

  6. Mat GoebelMat Goebel

    A valuable tactic I use for keeping up on FOAMed is to use a text-to-speech service like SoundGecko to turn very text heavy posts in a podcast that I can listen to on the go. This can be done within Feedly using and IFTTT recipe.

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    1. Pete Williams

      I’ve used monthly CDs from http://www.ccme.org/EMA/ for the last 6-7 years. They’re pretty good and utilise “dead” commuting time to keep up to date.
      Thanks for the posts, hopefully see some of the Manchester crowd in Chicago!

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Thanks so much for following. Viva la #FOAMed

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