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Note on Health Policy

Open access? Let’s open it further

Access to information is crucial, and this is especially important in healthcare. Most healthcare information comes from medical journals, where editors and peer reviewers sift through thousands of submissions. In the past, journals have restricted access to these articles to their paid subscribers.  Academic institutions, through centralized libraries, have provided access to their clinicians and researchers, but access by others, particularly in non-Western countries, has been limited. However most research is publicly funded by taxpayers through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 2008 the NIH required that researchers funded by NIH make their publications available to the general public. Push back from journal publishers resulted in a compromise where the journals could have up to 12 months exclusivity before opening access to the public. This 12 month envelop is now being pushed by the Gates Foundation, which funds research that results in about 2,500 publications a year. Starting this year, journals wishing to publish Gates Foundation supported research must open the papers and data sets to the public immediately. So far, the highest rated journals have declined, but discussions are ongoing, and hopefully access will open even further. This will require further evolution of journals’ business models, but this is a change that is coming, driven by funders of research as well as researchers themselves.

See full-text commentary in Nature, which does not yet have general immediate open access, although they did allow it for this commentary.

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