Benefits and Barriers to Implementation of Statistical Review at a Veterinary Medical Journal: A Mixed-Methods Study

Alexandra Winter,1,2 Nicola Di Girolamo,3 Michelle Giuffrida4

Objective To describe implementation of a statistical review process at a veterinary medical journal and perceived barriers to journal-wide adoption of this process.

Design In 2013 the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association assembled a group of experienced biostatistician reviewers, and 1 editor piloted a new statistical review process with the goal of achieving coordinated statistical review of all peer-reviewed manuscripts that included data. A collaborative approach was emphasized to maximize compliance. Other journal editors continued to request statistical review on an ad hoc basis, with biostatisticians made available to all editors starting in 2014. Peer review software was used to collect data on submission rates, numbers of statistical reviews, and turnaround times from editors and statistical reviewers. Qualitative data on perception of and barriers to implementation were collected from a convenience sample of authors, editors, and statistical reviewers.

Results Between 2013 and 2015, 2,198 manuscripts were submitted, including 1,021 primary research studies; 725 (71%) were sent for peer review, and 390 (38%) were accepted for publication. One hundred seven manuscripts underwent statistical review by 27 individuals (11 new statistical reviewers), totaling 166 statistical reviews (1-3 rounds). Ninety statistically reviewed primary research studies (84%) were accepted; of these, 61 (57%) were handled by the pilot editor, with the remainder handled by 6 other editors. For 2013-2015, the median time to final decision for primary research articles for the pilot editor was 242 days (interquartile range, 65-527 days) vs 70 (interquartile range, 19-300) days overall. In qualitative responses, authors and statistical reviewers favored the process, despite increased time, effort, and communication required. Editors recognized the value added by the process but declined to endorse implementation of coordinated statistical review on a journal-wide basis. Perceived barriers to journal-wide adoption included increased editorial workload, resource limitations, increased turnaround time, and a belief that editors and standard peer reviewers could typically identify many statistical issues.

Conclusions The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association was able to implement a process of statistical review. Considerable communication by the pilot editor with authors and statistical reviewers facilitated implementation but also contributed to increased turnaround time, representing a logistical barrier. Authors indicated that statistical review improved their manuscripts. However, journal editors did not reach consensus on the need for a policy of journal-wide statistical review. These results illustrate the difficulty in balancing efforts to improve quality and transparency of reporting with expediency concerns and established editorial processes.

1Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Schaumburg, IL, USA, awinter@avma.org; 2American Veterinary Medical Association, Schaumburg, IL, USA; 3EBMVet, Cremona, Italy; 4Department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California-Davis, Davis, CA, USA

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Funding/Support: No external funding was provided for this study, which was conducted on a voluntary basis. Contribution of time and resources came from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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