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Health Services Research (HSR) is pleased to announce a new feature called “The Theme Series.” The journal will from to time issue a call for papers on a specific “theme” considered to be of particular significance to the field and importance for current health care policy. Manuscripts submitted for the Theme Issue will undergo the usual HSR peer review process. Articles that meet HSR's high standards for publication will be further evaluated for relevance and significance, and the best 8–10 articles will be gathered into an issue devoted entirely to the announced theme. Accepted manuscripts that are not selected for the Theme Issue will be automatically accepted for publication in a regular issue.
The first theme selected is “Improving Efficiency and Value in Health Care” in which we seek to publish research that will help improve the value and efficiency of the American Healthcare System. This Theme Issue is sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which will assist HSR in publicizing the call and disseminating the findings of the selected studies. (See the Call for Papers at http://www.hsr.org.)
This theme is particularly fitting to initiate this new feature because it presents a conundrum for researchers and policy makers alike. HSR aims to attract the best research on this theme in time to contribute to the national debate and collective interest about health care that attends election years. We all recognize that high and rising healthcare costs—especially when accompanied by gaps in quality, safety, equity, and access—are unsustainable. Federal and state policy makers, along with private payers and systems leaders, are seeking new ways to reduce waste, increase efficiency of health care delivery, and allocate resources in order to improve value in health care. Consumers also seek guidance about how to maximize the value of their own health care dollar, particularly as some payer innovations have increased consumers' financial exposure. We invite you to respond to our call with your research to add value and efficiency to our system.
The processes used for Theme Issues in the new Theme Series will differ from those HSR uses for its regular and special issues in several ways. Manuscripts submitted for regular issues, of course, are unsolicited. The Co-Editors-in-Chief (EIC) make an initial judgment of the suitability of each submitted manuscript for our audience and the quality of the work. Manuscripts surviving this cut are then assigned to one of the eight Senior Associate Editors (SAE) for additional review before deciding to send it out for external peer review (see Luft and Flood 2003; Flood 2004; Luft 2004 for more details). The most appropriate SAE is chosen for each manuscript based on the topic of the research and the SAE's experience and academic discipline.
Special issues, on the other hand, are of two basic types (see Luft 2003 for details). Most special issues consist of a series of papers presented at a conference. A few special issues have resulted from a special call for papers. In both cases, however, the special issues are proposed and sponsored by organizations or groups external to HSR that approach the Journal with a particular topic in mind. A guest editor from the organization or group proposing the topic, working with an assigned SAE, plays a role in reviewing and selecting articles for publication based on their suitability for the special issue.
In contrast, for the Theme Series, the editors and publisher of HSR will select the themes and subsequently seek sponsorship for publishing and disseminating the resulting issue. HSR will then issue a targeted call for papers. Papers submitted to HSR in response to the call will first undergo the process for regular manuscripts, i.e., the EICs will make the initial cut based on fit and quality and then assign remaining manuscripts to the most appropriate SAE for another internal review and decision to send for external peer review. Subsequently, as with regular manuscripts, SAEs will make a recommendation to the EIC on acceptance, revision, or rejection. All manuscripts accepted through this process will be scheduled for electronic publication in Online Early; these articles are fully published and may be cited. It usually takes a few weeks from the date the accepted manuscript and required forms are received by our Managing Editor until they are published online.
It is during the “final” step—scheduling for print publication—that the Theme Issue manuscripts will be handled differently. At this point, one SAE (and Guest Editor, if any) will be assigned to review all accepted manuscripts responding to our call, taking into account both external reviewer and SAE assessments of manuscripts' originality and significance as well as their fit to the theme. The SAE and Guest Editor will select specific papers to be published in the Theme Issue, and recommend them to the EICs, who will make the final decisions on selection. Accepted manuscripts that are not selected for the Theme Issue will be published in regular issues.
Why would authors be interested in submitting their best work for publication in a Theme Issue? There are several important advantages from an author's perspective:
What are the potential benefits for HSR? While we remain strongly committed to our principal mission to publish high quality, original and significant research in the field of health services research, we also want to help build the field and bolster its ability to make an impact in changing the health care system through building the underlying science and evidence base. High-quality Theme Issues will offer a visible and effective mechanism for accomplishing these goals. With these aims in mind, we have also initiated:
We invite you to help us in this latest new feature by contributing your best work to the Theme Series as we all seek to add value to the field and to our health care system.