Geeky Dinner Conversation Topics Part I: Why are magazines in waiting rooms always old?

‘Tis the season for overeating, consumerism, alcohol, and boring dinner conversation. Well, dinner conversation does not have to be boring! This series of posts could give you some (peer-reviewed!) ideas!

Have you noticed how magazines are always months or years old in general practice waiting rooms? Ever wondered why? Do doctors and staff put out only old magazines or do they put out recent ones which later disappear (i.e., are taken by patients)?

Science has the answer and the doctors are not blame! A total of 87 magazines were stacked into three mixed piles and placed in the waiting room of a general practice in Auckland, New Zealand. They included non-gossipy magazines (Time Magazine, the Economist, Australian Women’s Weekly, National Geographic, BBC History) and gossipy ones. The authors did not report which gossipy magazines they used but they were defined as magazines having five or more photographs of celebrities on the front cover. 47 of the magazines were less than 2 months old and the rest were 3–12 months old. Each magazine was marked with a unique number on the back cover and monitored twice weekly.

The study lasted 31 days and after the end of it 41 of the 87 (47%) magazines had disappeared — a disappearance rate of 1.32 magazines each day! Current magazines were more likely to go missing than older ones (59% compared with 27%). None of the 19 non-gossipy magazines had disappeared compared with 26 of the 27 (96%) gossipy magazines. Surprisingly (or maybe not since gossip magazines are cheaper), the magazines that disappeared were significantly cheaper than those that remained.

The authors solution to this “problem” is putting out old copies of the Economist and Time magazine in waiting rooms. Sounds like a great idea to me!

You can read the full article here:

Arroll, B., Alrutz, S., and Moyes, S. (2014). An exploration of the basis for patient complaints about the oldness of magazines in practice waiting rooms: cohort study. BMJ, 349:g7262+.