We’ve been seeing ads for the new Research Highlights app appear on many medical journals recently so decided to do a formal review of the app that is free to download in the Apple App Store and Android Google Play Store.

Designed to facilitate keeping you up to date with current medical research, Research Highlights was created by Elsevier, the publishing giant that brings you ScienceDirect, Embase, ClinicalKey, and countless journals, books and other resources. Its competitors in the current awareness space are apps we’ve previously reviewed: Read by QxMD, Docphin, Browzine, and DocNews.

1 sign in

When you first open the app, you will need to create a new user name and password. The user agreement, which is linked only on this initial sign in page, contains standard language that applies to any Elsevier site and is not specific to the app or to information tracked, stored, or shared by the app.

2 define feed

Once registered, you can set up the feed you want to follow using a combination of keywords, journals, and authors. It’s important to note that you can only set up one feed, which makes this app both interesting and potentially limited. If you have more than one research interest, you’ll need to set up your combination of keywords, journals and authors carefully to be sure that you are getting everything you want (more on this later).

3 selecting keyword

Keywords can be searched in a variety of fields: article title, source title, authors, keywords, abstract, references, and affiliation. The default is for them to be searched in all of these fields, which may lead to some noise in your results, particularly if your keywords are being searched in the references of articles. You will get more precise results if you limit your keyword search to “Article Title, Abstract, Keywords.”

4 journals

You can also follow specific journals so that the citations from those journals appear in your feed. Research Highlights has agreements with “all major publishers” – not just Elsevier journals – and there are over 20,000 journals that can be followed. As a comparison, PubMed currently indexes about 5,100 journals, so this is a larger and broader pool of journals. The app offers matching titles as you type, though at times it was slow in matching journal titles we tested.

When searching for authors to add to your feed, no matching names are suggested as you type. This raises some questions about precision as there is no matching with preferred name formats and it is easy to retrieve citations from authors with similar names.

5 combining

Selections from keywords, journals and authors can be combined with Boolean operators. ANDs find citations that have all items in each citation, and ORs find citations that have either item in each citation. The ability to combine terms from keywords, journals and authors creates opportunities and limitations in this app.

First, the opportunities. If you have wide-ranging interests, just use “OR” to put your various terms together and your feed will contain citations that match any of your terms, any journals you like, and any authors you want to follow. If you have a very specific interest, such as mhealth by one specific author, you can use “AND” so that you only find articles on mhealth by authors with that name.

6 limitations

On the other hand, the app does not let you “AND” across categories and “OR” within them, meaning, you can’t do a search on mhealth “OR” iPads in the New England Journal of Medicine or JAMA. While this search finds 89 articles in PubMed, it gets zero in Research Highlights. So you can’t be very nuanced in your combinations of terms.

Since you can’t have more than one feed, you’ll need to think carefully about how you want to use the app. Do you want to follow all your research topics, journals and authors? If so, combine them with an OR. Or do you want to follow just one topic on this app? In which case, think carefully about what you want and where you think it appears. Following an author and a certain broad keyword could work; following a combination of keywords in multiple journals will not.

7 feed

Once you’ve set up your feed, your Home icon will take you to the citations that match your search criteria. The newest citations are displayed at the top.

8 abstract

Clicking on a citation takes you to the abstract. From the abstract, you can share via social media, add to favourites, send to a colleague, or “Email full text link to my inbox.” There are not links to the full text within the app, which is an interesting decision by the app publishers, who clearly think that users will not want to view the full text of an article on their mobile device. While this could be true for smartphone users, many people use tablets and larger phones for reading..

9 email

Emailed full text links are sent to the email address used at registration. The link to the full text article is a publisher link, meaning it is not tied to any institutional access you might have. If you do have institutional access, the link may work if you are on the campus network when you click on it. If your institution does not subscribe to the journal through that route or if you do not have any institutional access, you will be able to view full text for a fee.

  • Price
    • Free
    • Combining keywords, authors, and journals creates some interesting possibilities of creating a feed of articles on one topic by one author (or in one journal)
    • Simple to get going and to edit feeds
  • Dislikes
    • Users can only create one feed
    • Keyword, journal, and author terms can only be combined with one operator (ANDs or ORs), not a combination thereof
    • No links to full text articles within the app
    • No tools for working with PDFs
  • Overall

    Research Highlights connects to citations from a variety of journals not found in other journal apps and offers some interesting options for customizing your feed. However, for clinicians, the features offered in other journal compilation apps, such as tying in institutional access, Dropbox integration, and PDF annotation tools, will be a much bigger draw.  Plus, all those features are available for free in other journal compilation apps as well.

  • Overall Score
  • User Interface
  • Multimedia Usage
  • Price
  • Real World Applicability

    Other apps offer a higher level of functionality as mentioned in the conclusion.

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