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Paul Sax, MD on infectious diseases and journal publishing

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA) are launching a new peer-reviewed, open access journal, Open Forum Infectious Diseases (OFID), providing a global forum for the rapid publication of clinical, translational, and basic research findings. Oxford University Press will begin publishing OFID in early 2014, and Paul Sax, MD, has been named as the journal’s first editor-in-chief. We recently asked ‎Dr. Sax about launching an online only, open access journal, and about OFID specifically.

Why launch an online only, open access journal? Why now?

In all publishing – and not just for medical journals – there obviously has been a profound shift from print to online content. We see this in particular among younger readers, who are already getting virtually all their information from a screen (computer, tablet, phone); younger doctors expect studies not only to be online, but also to be free! In addition, some research funders prefer – or even mandate – that published studies supported by their grants be available without charge to readers, which is the core component of the open access model.

As for why launch an open access journal now, the number of high-quality papers submitted to the societies’ existing journals, The Journal of Infectious Diseases (JID) and Clinical Infectious Diseases (CID), greatly exceeds what these two journals can publish. As a result, we believe that we can build on the established reputations of these two journals to build a third Infectious Diseases (ID) journal – Open Forum Infectious Diseases (OFID).

To give an example of how younger doctors view open access journals, I was recently discussing a paper published in one of the more established open access journals with an ID fellow. Because of my new position with OFID, I asked her if she thought the lack of a hard copy journal was a problem in any way. She actually said she preferred it! And of course she mentioned – probably for my sake – that one still has the option of printing out a hard copy of the paper.

What do you hope Open Forum Infectious Diseases will contribute to the field ‎of infectious diseases?

The goal is for OFID to offer rapid publication of clinical, translational, and basic research for all aspects of ID, with a focus on studies that have the potential to improve patient care. This is a very broad spectrum of content and could include clinical trials, observational and cohort studies, translational laboratory work, cost-effectiveness studies, and novel diagnostic and therapeutic algorithms, among others. In addition to research and standard review articles, we’d also like to publish educational pieces that might not have an obvious home in other peer-reviewed infectious diseases journals. These include:

  • ID Cases:  Did a reader see a particularly illustrative case or series of cases? We are especially interested in cases that underscore a key aspect of diagnosis and management. What can readers learn from these cases that can help improve patient care? Submission of notable images or videos will be strongly encouraged, along with a targeted review of relevant literature.
  • ID Perspectives:  Does someone have an opinion on some aspect of ID (research, clinical care, education, policy) – one strong enough that they are motivated to communicate to others in the field? Has there been a patient- or research-related situation that should be shared? We would love to hear about events in clinical practice that particularly move, amuse — or even annoy! — the ID doctor.
  • Top Questions in ID:  We would like experts in a specific area of ID to give us the top questions they get on their topic. (Plus the answers, of course.)
  • ID Learning Units:  Clinicians who are not ID-specialists (and in particular ID fellows) need to learn the “basics” on many aspects of ID diagnosis, evaluation, and therapy. We all have experience teaching non-ID doctors – OFID could be a place to share these strategies.
  • ID on the Web:  This is, after all, where we get most information today. What are the go-to sites for the best ID information, and why?


Virus PandemicWhat are some recent developments in the field of infectious diseases, and how will Open Forum Infectious Diseases cover them?

One of the great things about the field is that it’s never boring – there are many “hot topics” (to quote the long-time ID guru John Bartlett) in ID. My own particular area of focus, HIV disease, of course will be included, and here’s just a partial list of other topics:

  • Antimicrobial resistance, in particular carbapenemase-producing gram negatives, MRSA, and pan-resistant gonorrhea
  • C difficile, in particular the increased utilization of fecal microbiota transplantation for refractory disease
  • Hepatitis C, and its explosive drug development
  • The ever increasing population of non-HIV immunocompromised hosts (transplant recipients, patients treated with biologics)
  • The shift of the diagnostic microbiology lab from culture-based to molecular-based testing
  • Hospital epidemiology, infection control, nosocomial infections, and quality assurance
  • Adult and childhood immunization
  • The rising number of tick-born infections
  • Tropical medicine, both treatment and prevention
  • Infections of prosthetic devices
  • “Emerging” and newly-discovered pathogens
  • Epidemiology, prevention, and treatment of influenza
  • Sexually transmitted infections


An online-publication model offers many opportunities to innovate and engage with an audience. What can readers and contributors, who are increasingly getting their information online, expect from Open Forum Infectious Diseases?

The online publication model offers almost limitless opportunities for innovation, with the goal of increasing engagement with contributors and readers. In their papers, contributors may include diverse images and multimedia files; for studies of potentially high importance, expert external commentary via video would enhance content. Moderated comments by readers, cross-linking, page-view counts, and reader ratings should all be strongly considered. In short, any strategy to engage readers would be fair game provided it is within accepted standards of online civil behavior and is not fraudulent.

A key goal will be differentiation of OFID from other journals, both online and traditional. One example of such content that we are planning – based on an idea from Diana Olson, IDSA’s Vice President of Communications – is to interview pioneers in the field regarding historical aspects or great advances in ID. What was it like to be involved in the development of the measles vaccine? How did the initial clinical trial of acyclovir for herpes encephalitis get started? How were cases of AIDS managed in the late 1970s, before the condition was “officially” discovered? The people who experienced firsthand these and other events will give us a five-minute summary, analogous to NPR’s StoryCorps oral history series.

Paul Edward Sax, MD is Clinical Director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. He is the editor-in-chief of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s new peer-reviewed, open access journal, Open Forum Infectious Diseases (OFID).

Open Forum Infectious Diseases provides a global forum for the rapid publication of clinical, translational, and basic research findings in a fully open access, online journal environment. The journal reflects the broad diversity of the field of infectious diseases, and focuses on the intersection of biomedical science and clinical practice, with a particular emphasis on knowledge that holds the potential to improve patient care in populations around the world.

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Image credit: Infectious virus closely. Concept of disease transmission and epidemic. © ktsimage via iStockphoto.

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