A Canadian startup's web widget is offering doctors and researchers help in digitally navigating the staggering volume of medical studies and articles being published each day around the world.
"Everything starts with the information overload problem. Today, there are now over 4,000 new articles that are published per day, and that's just in biomedicine alone," says Paul Kudlow, a Toronto-based physician-scientist and founder of TrendMD, a startup financially backed by MaRS Innovation and the Ontario Centres of Excellence.
Kudlow says the amount of published medical research is growing and is spread throughout an estimated 27,000 medical journals, making it nearly impossible to keep up with the latest developments.
"What's the point in publishing something if there is no guarantee that your intended audience will see it?," says Kudlow.
In 2012, Kudlow, grappling with the traditional ways to publicize his research, came up with the idea of TrendMD, an online tool that gives readers a way to find content relevant to their interests, while giving publishers, institutions, industry and authors the ability to target their audience.
TrendMD's business model is based on clicks, and there are two streams of revenue — publishers and sponsors.
Publishers place the TrendMD widget at the end of articles published on their websites, at no cost. Using the article content as a guide, the widget then recommends links to related studies elsewhere in the journal — keeping the reader engaged in their area of interest for as long as they want to read and, in turn, making money for the journal with every click.
Sponsors, on the other hand, pay to have their content added to TrendMD's widget after their study is reviewed by the startup's in-house team.
A scientist or doctor, for example, would pay TrendMD a minimum of $20 to have their studies accessed a maximum of 100 times. But the more they pay, the more clicks are available to readers.
Each time a reader clicks on a link, 20 cents is deducted from the sponsor's payment. Of that, 10 cents goes to the host journal, with the rest going to TrendMD.
200 journals using product
Kudlow estimates that TrendMD has about 250,000 articles indexed from about 200 journals that have signed up with the widget, a number he says is growing at five per cent per week.
These articles will only show up within that host publisher's site, meaning the widget on the British Medical Journal's articles draws only from that site.
On the sponsored side, which includes advertisers submitting content to TrendMD for promotion across the network, there are about 850 scholarly articles.
With all of this content, TrendMD generates approximately nine million scholarly article recommendations to 2.5 million readers per month, said Kudlow. The widget is installed across a network of about 200 premium scientific, technical, and medical journals and blogs, including BMJ, Landes Bioscience (Taylor and Francis), and the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
"We want to ensure that every piece of scholarly content gets in front of the right audience, so that it has the best chances of generating the impact it deserves," he says.
"In some cases we may grow the audience by 10,000 people that otherwise would have never seen their work."
Spark for startup came two years ago
The "eureka" moment for Kudlow and his partner Dr. Gunther Eysenbach came in 2012 when they stumbled upon a widget that personalized web content, generated by a company called Outbrain.
As soon as they saw the widget, they knew it would be a perfect fit for scholarly publishing.
In 2013, Kudlow's application to UTEST — a joint software testing venture between the University of Toronto and MaRS Innovation — received $30,000 in seed funding in exchange for five per cent of the company.
After months of testing, TrendMD launched in May 2014.
The company has received more than $530,000 in funding from investors such as the Ontario Centres of Excellence, MaRS Innovation and outside interests.
Dr. Scott Lear, a Health Sciences professor at Simon Fraser University, says that trying to keep up with the torrent of new medical research is overwhelming.
"I get inundated with emails and alerts and the like and nowadays it's like there's so much information out there, that it becomes more overwhelming than informative," he says.
Kudlow says that, up until about a decade ago, the distribution of scholarly content had not kept up with the shift to online from print.
Yet some researchers and doctors are resistant to change in the industry, arguing that the current system is still effective.
Dr. Naranjan Dhalla, 78, a recognized world leader in heart research and a professor of physiology at the University of Manitoba, sees the value in print publishing.
"I think people cannot keep track of it (research), there's no question about it. At the same time, I think both the print and digital are needed, so I don't know which way is the best," he says, adding that he finds the most effective way to evaluate scientific data is through print.
Kudlow says that one of the benchmarks of science is that it's meant to build on ideas of others.
"Now, if you don't know those ideas of others, how do you build? And how do you move forward?" he says. "We're going to come to a stage where science will slow down, we're going to have a problem with moving forward if we're not building on things."