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Research Christmas 2014: On the Wards, in the Surgery

An exploration of the basis for patient complaints about the oldness of magazines in practice waiting rooms: cohort study

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 11 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7262

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Bruce Arroll, professor,
  2. Stowe Alrutz, PhD candidate,
  3. Simon Moyes, statistician
  1. 1Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to: B Arroll bruce.arroll{at}
  • Accepted 7 November 2014


Objective To explore the basis for patient complaints about the oldness of most magazines in practice waiting rooms.

Design Cohort study.

Setting Waiting room of a general practice in Auckland, New Zealand.

Participants 87 magazines stacked into three mixed piles and placed in the waiting room: this included non-gossipy magazines (Time magazine, the Economist, Australian Women’s Weekly, National Geographic, BBC History) and gossipy ones (not identified for fear of litigation). Gossipy was defined as having five or more photographs of celebrities on the front cover and most gossipy as having up to 10 such images.

Interventions The magazines were marked with a unique number on the back cover, placed in three piles in the waiting room, and monitored twice weekly.

Main outcome measures Disappearance of magazines less than 2 months old versus magazines 3-12 months old, the overall rate of loss of magazines, and the rate of loss of gossipy versus non-gossipy magazines.

Results 47 of the 82 magazines with a visible date on the front cover were aged less than 2 months. 28 of these 47 (60%) magazines and 10 of the 35 (29%) older magazines disappeared (P=0.002). After 31 days, 41 of the 87 (47%, 95% confidence interval 37% to 58%) magazines had disappeared. None of the 19 non-gossipy magazines (the Economist and Time magazine) had disappeared compared with 26 of the 27 (96%) gossipy magazines (P<0.001). All 15 of the most gossipy magazines and all 19 of the non-gossipy magazines had disappeared by 31 days. The study was terminated at this point.

Conclusions General practice waiting rooms contain mainly old magazines. This phenomenon relates to the disappearance of the magazines rather than to the supply of old ones. Gossipy magazines were more likely to disappear than non-gossipy ones. On the grounds of cost we advise practices to supply old copies of non-gossipy magazines. A waiting room science curriculum is urgently needed.


  • We thank MADT (Kasey Dawson, Rixanne Fergusson, Florence Iosefa, and Tes Williams) for their advice on how to run this study. No gossipy magazines were harmed in this study (although we were tempted). Some recipe pages were torn out. Please be assured that clinical staff did not remove magazines during this study, so none incurred the death penalty.

  • Contributors: All authors read drafts of the document and the final version. BA came up with the idea and the design. SA conducted the literature search. SM did the statistical analysis. BA is the guarantor.

  • Funding: This study received no funding.

  • Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare: BA has a subscription to the Economist and is hoping for a free lifetime subscription when this article is published. The authors have no vested interest in the Economist or in Time magazine. SA reads gossipy magazines in grocery checkout lines for research purposes only. We have had no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years, no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

  • Data sharing: No additional data available.

  • Transparency: The lead author (BA) affirms that this manuscript is an honest, accurate, and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained.

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