"My goal is to change the landscape of scientific publishing" to increase public access to information developed with the NIH's financial support, said the institutes' director, Dr. Elias Zerhouni.
Beginning May 2, NIH strongly will encourage researchers to make their findings available as soon as possible, he said.
Most scientific findings are published in peer-reviewed journals. Subscriptions to various journals can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Patient advocates have complained that such costs limit access to this information. They have sought immediate and free access to research produced with the help of taxpayers, such as studies funded by NIH.
But many scientific journals are published by interest groups that focus on various diseases and rely on subscriptions to raise money.
Under the new policy, researchers receiving grants from NIH will be asked to submit a copy of their final manuscript to the National Library of Medicine, a part of NIH.
The researchers would set a date when the information could be made publicly available on the library's Internet site. The library will maintain an archive of published studies that the public can review.
The researchers will be encouraged to make the public release date at least within a year after publications, Zerhouni said.
He said he believes the researchers "will do what's right for the public."
With more than 93 million people going online each year for information about diseases, this step will help them obtain the latest research data, Zerhouni said.
Zerhouni last year suggested that researchers set a date of six months after publication to make their research available. He said Thursday that after receiving many comments on the idea he decided to change that to as soon as possible, but within a year.
"Scientists have a right to see the results of their work disseminated as quickly and broadly as possible, and NIH is committed to helping our scientists exercise this right. We urge publishers to work closely with authors in implementing this policy," Zerhouni said.
In December, a group of journal publishers, under pressure from patient advocates, announced their own plans for public access to articles.
That program - www.patientINFORM.org - is to begin in the spring. At first, it will focus on three diseases.
It will also use an Internet site, allowing the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association to select published articles from various journals to be made available to the public.
By Randolph E. Schmid