A valuable string of PURLs

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Since JFP’s launch of the PURL department in November of 2007, 122 PURLs—Priority Updates from the Research Literature—have been published. The Journal of Family Practice is the exclusive publication venue for these items. Because they have stood the test of time and are one of the more popular columns in JFP, I thought it would be worthwhile to describe the rigorous evaluation they undergo before they are published.

Many studies, but few PURLs. Each year, approximately 200,000 new human medical research studies are indexed on PubMed. Very few of these studies are pertinent to family medicine, however, and even fewer provide new patient-oriented evidence for primary care clinicians.

In 2005, the leaders of the Family Physician Inquiries Network (FPIN), which produces another popular JFP column, Clinical Inquiries, set about identifying high-priority research findings relevant to family medicine. A group of family physicians and librarians began combing the research literature monthly to find those rare randomized trials or high-quality observational studies that pertained to our specialty. To qualify as a PURL, a study had to meet 6 criteria. It had to be scientifically valid, relevant to family medicine, applicable in a medical care setting, immediately implementable, clinically meaningful, and practice changing. These criteria still stand today.

Making the cut. When a study is identified as a potential PURL, it is submitted to one of FPIN’s PURL review groups for a critical appraisal and rigorous peer review. If the group cannot convince the PURLs editors that the original research meets all 6 criteria, the study falls by the wayside. Most potential PURLs do not make the cut. I was one of the early PURL “divers,” and I was amazed at how few PURLs existed. Given the emphasis of research on subspecialties and the dearth of primary care research funding in the United States, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

Interested in research that is clinically meaningful and practice changing for family physicians? Then check out our PURLs column.

Holding their value. I reviewed all 122 PURLs this week and am proud to say that nearly all still provide highly pertinent, practice-changing information for family physicians and other primary care clinicians. For a quick review of our string of PURLs, go to, select “Articles” in the banner, and then “PURLs,” and read the short practice changer box for each one. I guarantee it will be time well spent!

If you would like to become part of the PURLs process, either by nominating or reviewing a PURL, please contact the PURLs Project Manager at

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