Open access and health.


Open access and health.

Image of stethoscope and laptop

For this third day of open access-related blog posts, we are looking at how open access can be of benefit to healthcare around the world.

“…it is only through removing the barriers to access to global research that health improvements can be accelerated. Open access delivers free access to millions of research articles for all with internet access regardless or institutional affiliation or national GDP.” (Chan et al, 2009)

Open access repositories, such as CReaTE, have revolutionised the way that research in health and medicine can be distributed. This is a great reason why academics and researchers in health should be actively engaged with repositories to fulfil open access mandates (Loan and Sheikh, 2016).

Some of the positive outcomes of using repositories for include:

  • Clinicians have access to up to date information that patients can benefit from
  • Medics can find the research and information they need to enhance their own knowledge and skills, improving their CPD
  • Access to research can lead to innovations in treatment and developments in patient care

Apart from such benefits there is also the argument around patients’ rights; in that patients and their advocates deserve access to the whole corpus of medical/health evidence-based research so this should be freely available to them (the end user). If they cannot access high quality peer-reviewed research there is a greater likelihood that they will have to rely on unreliable and/or unhelpful sources, many of which are not overseen by trained health professionals.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Health practitioners and policy makers translate health research into practice and policy. However, end users of this research – patients and clinicians ‘on the ground’ – have limited access to full versions of peer-reviewed literature that is published in subscription journals. Therefore, there is a gap between research findings (what is known) and health care practice (what is done). Essential information “bypasses the very people it is designed to help” because of a lack of access to research (Spedding, 2016). In contrast, open access accelerates knowledge transfer to more readers and beyond academia to health practitioners. There are clear examples where open access to research has directly influenced clinical practice; for example in the fight against the Ebola virus in Africa.

An additional issue is that the vast majority of research in diseases prevalent in developing countries is published in American or European journals, despite the fact that the findings primarily impact people outside of North America and Europe, people who are unable to access many of the journals in question due to the high cost of subscriptions. We need to get this research to the people who need it most, and open access is something that can help with this.


How can we help?

There are several, relatively easy, things we can do if we want to make it more likely that  people in every country and community can read our research:

  • Use CReaTE and/or another open access research repository. Try searching OpenDOAR – a global directory of open access repositories.
  • Publish in open access journals (it’s not always necessary to pay to do this). You can find a list of these at DOAJ – the Directory of Open Access Journals.
  • Make your own open access journal, using an open source platform such as Open Journal Systems.


References and further reading

Anderson, T. (2011) ‘6 reasons open access matters to the medical community‘, Right to Research Coalition Blog,

Ansolabehere, K., Ball, C., Devare, M., Guidotti, T., Priedhorsky, B., Van der Stelt, W., Taylor, M., Veldsman, S. and Willinsky, J. (2016) ‘The Moral Dimensions of Open’, Open Scholarship Initiative Proceedings, 1. doi: 10.13021/G8SW2G

Barbour, V., Chinnock, P., Cohen, B. and Yamey, G. (2006) ‘The impact of open access upon public health’, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 84(5), pp. 339. doi: 10.2471/BLT.06.032409.

Chan, L., Arunachalam, S. and Kirsop, B. (2009) ‘Open access: a giant leap towards bridging health inequities’, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 87(8), pp. 631-635. doi: 10.2471/BLT.09.064659.

Grant-Kels, J.M. (2017) ‘The ethical arguments in support of open access journals’, International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, 3(1), pp. 4-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.01.002.

Lawton, A. and Flynn, E. (2015) ‘The value of Open Access publishing to Health and Social Care Professionals in Ireland‘.

Loan, F.A. and Sheikh, S. (2016) ‘Analytical study of open access health and medical repositories’, The Electronic Library, 34(3), pp. 419-434. doi: 10.1108/EL-01-2015-0012.

PLoS Medicine Editors (2013) ‘Poor health in rich countries: a role for open access journals’, PLoS medicine, 10(10), pp. e1001543. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001543.

Spedding, S. (2016) ‘Open Access Publishing of Health Research: Does Open Access Publishing Facilitate the Translation of Research into Health Policy and Practice?’, Publications, 4(1), pp. 2. doi: 10.3390/publications4010002.

Williams, C. (2013) ‘Editorial: The post-2015 development agenda, human rights, evidence, and open-access publishing’, Health and human rights, 15(2), pp. 1.

Share this page: