Dr. Howard Bauchner sees a bright future for the Journal of the American Medical Association — but it might be one read on a smartphone, or in a foreign language.
Bauchner, an energetic 59-year-old who plays basketball against 20-somethings and shows up for work before 5 a.m., became the 128-year-old medical journal's top editor July 1. He replaces Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, 71, who left the job after 11 years to return to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Bauchner, who recently moved to a condominium in downtown Chicago, faces a quandary common to editors everywhere, whether they are trying to reach readers who are news junkies, gossip hounds — or physicians.
"Most practitioners are inundated with information," he said. "How do you get information to them in a usable format?"
With the caveat that he had been on the job only a couple of weeks, he agreed to share some of his ideas with the Tribune. JAMA, published by the Chicago-based American Medical Association, counts its print circulation at more than 300,000 readers, but Bauchner sees great opportunity from the millions of people who visit its website and digital operations every month.
Bauchner said he will pursue a strategy of "intelligent innovation" for the journal, looking at ways to get information to doctors and consumers through several new platforms, such as social media, video and other digital forms.
"If you look at some of the other creative sites like TED or Big Think, they have been experimenting with video clips," Bauchner said. "I could imagine having some of our authors do video clips where they speak about the meaning of their research for eight or 10 minutes, and then that's easily linked into a smartphone."
Bauchner is also considering having the journal experiment with shorter, condensed articles, to better engage busy physicians who can take advantage of a "more CliffNotes version." An original article might remain 2,500 to 3,000 words, but an online version of 500 words, with less background information but still providing "clinical nuggets," would also be available to readers.
"My job is to give them options and choices," Bauchner said.
To that end, he has another thought: "Perhaps we need to provide more content beyond just English," Bauchner said. "I would like to see us experiment with some new languages in terms of our abstracts and electronic tables of content."
And he doesn't limit his thinking about his potential audience just to doctors.
"JAMA is not just for physicians," Bauchner said. "The public is a far greater consumer of health information than ever before."
Bauchner, a noted professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University, is the 16th editor in JAMA's history and will oversee the editorial side of JAMA and the nine Archives specialty medical journals published by the AMA and covering areas such as dermatology, psychiatry and ophthalmology.
There are scores of medical journals, but JAMA is one of the few internationally recognized weeklies, along with the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).
The publication frequently makes broader media headlines with its articles, ranging from medical breakthroughs to editorials criticizing the health care system.
In Bauchner, JAMA will be getting a seasoned editor and author, AMA officials said.
Since 2003, he has been the editor in chief of the Archives of Disease in Childhood, the journal of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the United Kingdom. Bauchner is the first U.S.-based editor of that journal.
At the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Bauchner was never averse to change and embraced technology, working to tailor different editions of the journal to different groups of readers, according to researchers there. He launched a medical education version and a journal for specialists in fetal and neonatal medicine, which focuses on very young infants.
At JAMA, Bauchner said, he is poised to try new things as well. Particularly with his digital media ideas, he might be reading the minds of young doctors-to-be like Jim Wills.
The Chicago native and second-year medical student at the University of New Mexico is busy. Wills, 35, married with three young children, said he often does not have time to leaf through print journals like JAMA after a long day of study and patient rounds.
"JAMA's content is quite valuable and can really help medical students and residents on the hospital floor, but we often don't have time to even review the table of contents and dig for content that meets our needs," said Wills, surrounded by white-haired, older doctors at the Hyatt Regency Chicago during the American Medical Association annual meeting in June.
"We need a JAMA experience that is more proactive in getting us usable information in a way that is delivered and packaged for our needs," Wills added. "I'd love to have the option of signing up for alerts in certain content areas that are core to most medical school curriculums, such as cardiology, pharmacology, nephrology, etc. Then I'd want JAMA to push abstracts of these specific articles to me. I'm on my pediatrics rounds, and bam — I get an abstract right to my smartphone."
Bauchner will appreciate such feedback, say his former colleagues at Boston University: He often had the pediatric journal survey readers and was keen on making it easier for them to read the publication.
As a manager, he was known for working in the pre-dawn hours and for his efforts to connect with staff.
"He is so nice to everyone around him, and empowering," said Dr. Jason Wang, who was a colleague of Bauchner's at Boston University. "He empowers everybody. He will read everything you send him, and he usually gives feedback to people before they arrive at work."
Wang once arrived at Boston University medical school offices at 4:30 a.m. to see if he could find out when Bauchner arrived for work. On that day, Bauchner arrived just before 5 a.m.
Why so early?
"He loves his job," Wang said.
Bauchner, a native of Union, N.J., where he played high school basketball, continued his passion for the sport through his 50s, playing pickup games near his home in Cambridge, Mass., with fellow players described by Wang as "teenagers" or those in their younger 20s.
"I worry about him and would say, 'You're going to get hurt,'" said Wang, who, at 40, is nearly two decades Bauchner's junior. "When I think of a journal editor, it's someone who is old and typing on a manual typewriter. That's definitely not him."
Bauchner wants JAMA to move faster too.
Under recently departed JAMA editor DeAngelis, who declined to comment for this story, the publication would launch stories online a few days or even weeks before print. Increasingly, medical journals are releasing exclusives and significant reports or studies ahead of time if editors feel the public and physicians need the information right away.
In coming months and years, Bauchner said, JAMA will be "posting many more of its articles ahead of print."
Soon, JAMA will begin surveying readers to see what it could do better. He said the American Medical Association has committed more resources to the journal's digital future. The future of medical journalism is strong, Bauchner says, citing medical journals that have started in recent years.
Beyond technological advancements, Bauchner has another aim: to see JAMA have a role in the greater discourse of health care and related policy. He said he would like to see the journal be a player in the ongoing debate on how to overhaul the nation's health care system.
"I want to see JAMA participate in the discussion and debate about the best way to accomplish those goals," he said.
Those who know Bauchner say that his work in medicine and public health gives him the right background to understand the everyday needs of physicians and their patients. His research on topics including health promotion, clinical trials and quality improvement has been published in more than 125 medical journals.
"The health care system is such a mess, and health services research and health policy research have become more and more important," said Wang, who, like Bauchner, has a joint appointment as a professor in the Boston University School of Medicine and the Boston University School of Public Health.
"They want more doctors involved in research, and Howard knows the importance of that in his new role."
Dr. Howard Bauchner
As editor in chief: He has editorial oversight over JAMA and its nine Archives journals, the specialty medical journals of the American Medical Association. JAMA has about 100 employees. Its print circulation tops 300,000. Its website gets about 3 million page views monthly.
Education: Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Berkeley. Medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine.
Career notes: Has served on more than a half-dozen medical journal editorial boards, including Pediatrics (1997-2004); Archives of Disease in Childhood (2000-02); and BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal (2006-11). As an author, has published more than 125 papers in peer-reviewed journals.
JAMA cover a changin': A photo of a prestigious painting or artwork has been a staple on the JAMA cover since 1964. But Bauchner is considering adding graphics and language to tie the cover to the articles within the issue. The cover "hasn't always been about the content inside."
His family: His wife, Christine McElroy, is a noted clinical psychologist in private practice in Cambridge, Mass. He has two sons: Mathis, a junior communications major at Boston University, and Camden, who will be a freshman at the University of Chicago this fall. His dog, Gizmo, is a 9-year-old bichon frise.
On his basketball-playing staying power: "(In Cambridge), I played in an old man's league on Tuesday nights. We don't jump very much anymore."
SOURCES: Journal of the American Medical Association; Boston University; Tribune reports