Major Medical (Meetings): How Many Meeting Abstracts Make it to Publication?

You go to major medical meetings and learn a lot, but how often are you getting a sneak peek of tomorrow’s published works? Is there a difference whether it’s an oral or poster presentation? And what type of research has the biggest impact factor: clinical, population, or basic science?

The scientific yield from major cardiology conferences, as measured by the rate at which presented abstracts are eventually published in peer-reviewed journals, is about 30% at 2 years and more than 40% at 5 years.1 The new study, apparently the first to evaluate major scientific meeting output using an automatic computerized algorithm, included retrospective data from conferences of the American Heart Association (AHA), the ACC, and the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Scientific Sessions from 2006 to 2008, according to Emil L. Fosbøl, MD, PhD, and colleagues at Danish Technical University, Copenhagen, Demark and Duke Clinical Research Institute, Durham, North Carolina.

Assessment of peer-reviewed publication rates and journal impact factors revealed that within 2 years of presentation at a conference, 30.6% of presented abstracts were published, with respective rates of 34.5% for AHA, 29.5% for ACC, and 27.0% for ESC meetings (p < 0.001). By 5-years post-conference, the rates rose to 49.7%, 42.6%, and 37.6% for the AHA, the ACC, and the ESC, respectively.

The median impact factor (a measure of the frequency with which the average article in a journal has been cited in a particular year or period) was 4.2 for the three meetings. Articles on basic science had the highest median impact factor (5.6) compared with clinical science (3.9) and population science (4.2; p < 0.0001 for all differences). Median time to publication was shorter (11 months) for high-impact than for lower-impact journals (13 months; p < 0.0001).

Among the three medical societies, the AHA was associated with a 24% higher odds of publication than the ESC (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 1.24; 95% CI 1.16-1.34), and a 20% higher odds than the ACC (OR = 1.20; 95% CI 1.11-1.29).

The authors noted that differences in meeting abstract acceptance rates might potentially explain some of the variance; perhaps a lower acceptance rate is indicative of higher quality which, in turn, could translate into better publication rates. However, the ACC, AHA, and ESC each accepted about 30% of submitted abstracts for presentation.

Be Sure to Check the Posters

If your meeting abstract is not accepted is your work’s fate sealed? Not really; you still have a one-in-four shot of getting published. Publication rates for rejected abstracts were not available to the authors of the Circulation report, but the authors of a recent paper in the European Heart Journal found that among all of the ESC Congress abstracts submitted for the year analyzed (2006), the subsequent publication rate was 38% among accepted abstracts versus 24% for those rejected.2

Also, just because the abstract is presented as a poster does not mean you can miss the boards without missing a lot of good science. The ESC analysis found no significant difference in eventual publication rates for studies accepted as oral (37%) and poster (39%) presentations (p = 0.79).

However, significantly more oral presentations were subsequently published in high–impact factor journals (30%) versus studies accepted as poster presentations (10%; p = 0.009) or rejected studies (4%; p < 0.001).

If you want to pump up your abs, what do you need to know? At ESC Congress level, basic research, a patient number ≥100, and prospective study design were identified as independent predictors of acceptance. These factors differed from those predicting full-text publication, which included academic affiliation. The single parameter predicting frequent citation was study design, with randomized controlled trials reaching the highest citation rates.

Fosbøl et al. noted, "While conferences allow abstracts public airing and media attention, we find it perplexing that two-thirds of these abstracts will not be published within a 2-year period following the meeting." Regarding the substantial lag time for many papers, they wrote, "Our findings suggest that efforts to understand the barriers to publication and to facilitate the rapid dissemination of new knowledge are needed in order to speed up the transition of scientific discovery into clinical practice."

Calling the current situation "less than ideal," Dr. Fosbøl and colleagues cited "more modern approaches to publication of scientific findings," such as the movement towards more open-source publishing, as one potential option.


  1. Fosbøl EL, Fosbøl PL, Harrington RA, et al. Circulation. 2012. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Winnik S, Raptis DA, Walker JH, et al. Eur Heart J. 2012. [Epub ahead of print]

Keywords: Odds Ratio, Peer Review, Research, Societies, Medical, Publishing, Journal Impact Factor

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