Characterization of an Open-Access Medical News Platform's Readership During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Retrospective Observational Study

J Med Internet Res. 2021 May 25;23(5):e26666. doi: 10.2196/26666.


Background: There are many alternatives to direct journal access, such as podcasts, blogs, and news sites, that allow physicians and the general public to stay up to date with medical literature. However, there is a scarcity of literature that investigates the readership characteristics of open-access medical news sites and how these characteristics may have shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Objective: This study aimed to assess readership and survey data to characterize open-access medical news readership trends related to the COVID-19 pandemic and overall readership trends regarding pandemic-related information delivery.

Methods: Anonymous, aggregate readership data were obtained from 2 Minute Medicine, an open-access, physician-run medical news organization that has published over 8000 original, physician-written texts and visual summaries of new medical research since 2013. In this retrospective observational study, the average number of article views, number of actions (defined as the sum of the number of views, shares, and outbound link clicks), read times, and bounce rates (probability of leaving a page in <30 s) were compared between COVID-19 articles published from January 1 to May 31, 2020 (n=40) and non-COVID-19 articles (n=145) published in the same time period. A voluntary survey was also sent to subscribed 2 Minute Medicine readers to further characterize readership demographics and preferences, which were scored on a Likert scale.

Results: COVID-19 articles had a significantly higher median number of views than non-COVID-19 articles (296 vs 110; U=748.5; P<.001). There were no significant differences in average read times (P=.12) or bounce rates (P=.12). Non-COVID-19 articles had a higher median number of actions than COVID-19 articles (2.9 vs 2.5; U=2070.5; P=.02). On a Likert scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), our survey data revealed that 65.5% (78/119) of readers agreed or strongly agreed that they preferred staying up to date with emerging literature about COVID-19 by using sources such as 2 Minute Medicine instead of journals. A greater proportion of survey respondents also indicated that open-access news sources were one of their primary sources for staying informed (86/120, 71.7%) compared to the proportion who preferred direct journal article access (61/120, 50.8%). The proportion of readers indicating they were reading one or less full-length medical studies a month were lower following introduction to 2 Minute Medicine compared to prior (21/120, 17.5% vs 38/120, 31.6%; P=.005).

Conclusions: The readership significantly increased for one open-access medical literature platform during the pandemic. This reinforces the idea that open-access, physician-written sources of medical news represent an important alternative to direct journal access for readers who want to stay up to date with medical literature.

Keywords: COVID-19; cross-sectional; internet; literature; media; medical news; news; open access; readership trends; survey; text summaries; trend; web-based health information.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomedical Research / statistics & numerical data*
  • COVID-19*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Open Access Publishing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pandemics
  • Reading*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Young Adult