THIS EDITORIAL INTRODUCES yet another installment in our promise to promote Advances in Skin & Wound Care as a progressive, premier, peer-reviewed journal in the skin and wound care field: the appointment of an ombudsman.
Ombudsman is a Swedish term meaning commissioner or agent. An umbodhsmadhr was a deputy who looked after the interests and legal affairs of a group, such as a trade union or business. In 1809, the office of riksdagens justitieombudsman was created to act as an agent of justice to oversee the interest of justice in affairs between the government and citizens.
The Role of the Ombudsman
Biomedical journals, such as The Lancet and The Canadian Medical Association Journal, have expanded this concept to editorial matters. The ombudsman—a neutral party—deals with queries from authors and other stakeholders regarding the editorial process, ie, aberrant reviews, manuscript rejections that are disputed, and complaints about perceptions of bias and unfairness in the editorial process. An advocate for ethics and the principles of fair play and justice, the ombudsman is empowered to investigate and resolve issues related to the editorial process.
Not surprisingly, journals that have instituted the ombudsman concept have done so for similar reasons. For purposes of illustration, I have divided these reasons into 2 types:
- Type 1—If not handled appropriately, these usually minor communication issues or misperceptions tend to escalate to levels of conflict much higher than the original issue itself. Examples: (1) An author has a major disagreement with the review process, arguing and intimidating the staff and demanding a prompt resolution in his favor. (2) A letter writer complains that his letter to the editor should be published immediately, even though it is based only on his opinion and provides no referenced material. 1 (3) An author complains about the protracted review process, calling into question the expertise of the reviewers and the rejection of his paper.
- Type 2—These issues, if not resolved in a satisfactory manner, can be damaging to professional reputations and have legal implications beyond a journal staff’s scope of authority and responsibility to resolve. 2 Examples: (1) A paper is revised and resubmitted with some of the original authors deleted and new authors added. (2) A reviewer or reader implies an undisclosed financial conflict of interest between an author and an industry sponsor. (3) Accusations are made that part of a paper has been plagiarized. (4) An author submits a paper that is virtually identical to a paper she published in another journal, violating copyright rules.
Neutral Party to Resolve Disputes
In resolving issues like these, the journal has a responsibility to proceed in an equitable manner, remaining sensitive to the authors while maintaining the editorial integrity of the journal. Most of the time, we succeed. In fact, the majority of interactions we have with authors and reviewers are positive and smooth.
However, for the small number of disputes that occur, guidance from a neutral party is in order. According to Hoey and Todkill, 3 “journal editors are often viewed by authors as a lesser species of despot, and complaints may seem to fall on ears that, if not deaf, are also not impartial. But, other than complaining to editors, there is no other means to air a grievance.”3 Horton 4 agreed that “there is no-one to whom [the editors] are accountable.”
For this reason, Advances in Skin & Wound Care has taken its place at the leading edge of the trend by appointing an ombudsman. We are indeed fortunate to have someone on our editorial board who possesses the necessary skills and training and who is not a wound care specialist per se—which means he will maintain neutrality in the outcome of a given editorial dispute. David W. Musick, PhD, currently our ethics consultant, has accepted the newly created role of ombudsman.
A Brief Introduction
Dr Musick is Vice-Chairman for Education and Development in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA. He is also currently the Director of Graduate Medical Education for the University of Pennsylvania Health System and on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Medical Bioethics. Before joining the faculty at Penn, Dr Musick was an Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine and Assistant Dean for Student Testing & Program Evaluation at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY.
Dr Musick’s research interests include academic physiatry, clinical performance evaluation, biomedical ethics, and spirituality in medicine. While at the University of Kentucky, he was coprinciple investigator on a curriculum development grant from the National Institute for Healthcare Research. Dr Musick has lectured and published extensively in the fields of medical education and program evaluation, with some 40 publications/abstracts and numerous presentations since 1993.
As ombudsman, Dr Musick is empowered to investigate unresolved complaints about the journal’s editorial process—for example, inappropriate editing, delays, and lack of courtesy. In his role as the journal’s ethicist, he will advise us on questions of conduct. He will have confidential access to all pertinent files and records and will be able to consult others (while preserving the anonymity of authors and reviewers). As ombudsman, he will write an annual report of his findings with regard to any complaints. 3,4
Anyone who feels he or she has not been treated fairly by the journal should first correspond in writing with the editors and outline the nature of the complaint. We will respond. If that response is judged unsatisfactory, the complaint (and our reply) will be sent to the ombudsman as the second level of review.
Advances in Skin & Wound Care is a product of many stakeholders. It does not “belong” to the editors and authors, but exists to serve the needs of health care professionals and industry. Please join me in welcoming Dr Musick in his expanded role as ombudsman.
1. Salcido R. A new policy on letters to the editor. Adv Skin Wound Care 2003; 16:4–5.
2. Salcido R. Authorship: an occasional source of wounds. Adv Skin Wound Care 2002; 15:198–9.
3. Hoey J, Todkill AM. Complaints and conundrums: an ombudsman-ethicist for CMAJ. Can Med Assoc J 2002; 166:1281–2.
4. Horton R. The Lancet’s ombudsman. Lancet 1996; 348:6.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Advances in Skin & Wound Care is soliciting manuscripts on a variety of topics, including original investigations, clinical reviews, and innovative treatments.
For a copy of the Author Guidelines, contact Susan Doan-Johnson, Editorial Director,
1-800-346-7844, ext 7791;
or E-mail: [email protected]
Or consult the journal’s Web site,