Background Health-based journal clubs have been in place for over 100 years. Participants meet regularly to critique research articles, to improve their understanding of research design, statistics and critical appraisal. However, there is no standard process of conducting an effective journal club. We conducted a systematic literature review to identify core processes of a successful health journal club.
Method We searched a range of library databases using established keywords. All research designs were initially considered to establish the body of evidence. Experimental or comparative papers were then critically appraised for methodological quality and information was extracted on effective journal club processes.
Results We identified 101 articles, of which 21 comprised the body of evidence. Of these, 12 described journal club effectiveness. Methodological quality was moderate. The papers described many processes of effective journal clubs. Over 80% papers reported that journal club intervention was effective in improving knowledge and critical appraisal skills. Few papers reported on the psychometric properties of their outcome instruments. No paper reported on the translation of evidence from journal club into clinical practice.
Conclusion Characteristics of successful journal clubs included regular and anticipated meetings, mandatory attendance, clear long- and short-term purpose, appropriate meeting timing and incentives, a trained journal club leader to choose papers and lead discussion, circulating papers prior to the meeting, using the internet for wider dissemination and data storage, using established critical appraisal processes and summarizing journal club findings.