Scientists communicate their research findings through journal articles. This is true for both medical research and translational research, which translates basic science research to clinical practice with the express aim to improve patient health outcomes. Keeping up with advances in clinical research is essential for health care providers to provide the best care for their patients meaning they need to timely and ongoing access to journal articles. However, only a minority of medical journals are open access; most require a subscription which can be costly. In 2017 health sciences journal’s subscription costs averaged $1,732 per journal annually (titles in Clarivate Analytics Indexes). Pay per view costs for single journal articles frequently ranging from $30 to $50 per article. Health care providers not affiliated with hospital or medical center with a library to negotiate and pay for journal subscriptions are often left on their own to pay for journal articles.
Within this context, the importance of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) passage of its Public Access Policy on April 7, 2008 becomes apparent. The Policy states that all peer-reviewed articles based in any part on NIH funded research must be made publicly available through PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. PubMed Central is a free, full-text repository. NIH promotes compliance to this policy by delaying continued and future funding if investigators don’t follow this policy. NIH’s rationale for the mandate was that the results of publicly funded research should be available to the public. Currently 5.1 million articles are archived in PubMed Central. However, an article published in 2015 reported that 76% of physicians recruited to their study were unaware of the NIH Public Access Policy. This indicates a clear need for targeted publicity of the policy. It should be noted that a knowledge of the NIH Policy is not needed to access articles made available through PubMed Central because of the policy. PubMed Central articles are clearly linked to from PubMed, a freely available online article database of biomedical journal articles. In addition, medical-related searches in Google Scholar frequently link to PubMed or PubMed Central records, again providing access to the full text articles.
The NIH Open Access Policy is an important step toward open access to medical journal articles. Because the mandate allows a 1 year embargo before articles are made open access, access to current research is delayed, but it has made millions of articles available to the public. Despite a lack of awareness of the policy by physicians, they still have the opportunity to access full text articles through PubMed Central.