Emergency medicine (EM) organizations such as the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine and the Institute of Medicine have called for more clinical research as a way of addressing the scarcity of research in EM. Previous investigations have examined funding and productivity in EM research, but whether EM researchers preferentially concentrate on certain patient-related topics is not known. We hypothesized that at least part of the scarcity of EM research is from the tendency of EM researchers, like researchers in other fields, to focus on rarer conditions with higher morbidity or mortality instead of on more common conditions with less acuity. This study compared the frequency of specific medical conditions presenting to emergency departments nationwide with the frequency of emergency physician research on those same conditions.
This study is a structured retrospective review and comparison of 2 databases during an 11-year span. Principal diagnoses made by emergency physicians as reported by the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey were compared to all first-author publications by emergency physicians as reported in PubMed between 1996 and 2006. Statistics included correlations and linear regression with the number of emergency department (ED) visits per diagnosis as the independent variable and the number of articles published as the dependent variable.
During the study period, there was significant concordance between the frequency of presenting conditions in the emergency department and the frequency of research being performed on those conditions, with a high correlation of 0.85 (P < 0.01). More common ED diagnoses such as injury/poisoning, symptoms/ill-defined conditions, and diseases of the respiratory system accounted for 60.9% of ED principal diagnoses and 50.2% of the total research published in PubMed.
Unlike researchers in other fields, emergency physicians investigate clinical problems in almost the exact proportion as those conditions are encountered in the emergency department. The scarcity of EM research does not have to do with a skewed focus toward less common patient problems.