The 2022 European Meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) took place on 25–26 January. For anyone involved in medical publications and scientific communications, this meeting provides invaluable insights into the latest developments and best practices in this field as well as the opportunity to engage with fellow publications professionals.
The theme of this year’s meeting was ‘Advancing Our Profession: Driving Leadership and Best Practices in Medical Communications‘ exploring how publications professionals can be leaders at all levels and how all stakeholders play a part. Alongside the talks, roundtables and panel discussions, 45 posters were presented providing new research, findings and observations across the broad range of topics.
With the increasing interest in plain language summaries, several posters were presented on this theme. In this series of ‘Peek Behind the Research’ interviews, we speak with the authors to learn more about their research and work.
Here we speak with Caroline Halford (Digital Publishing Manager, Springer Healthcare) and Steve Winter (Senior Scientific Team Leader, inScience Communications, Springer Healthcare) about their research ‘Do plain language summaries encourage readers to access your publication? A pilot study‘.
Read the interview in full below or access the poster here.ISMPP-EU-2022-Do-plain-language-summaries-encourage-readers-to-access-your-publication-A-pilot-study
Source: ‘Do plain language summaries encourage readers to access your publication? A pilot study‘ originally presented at the 2022 European Meeting of ISMPP, January 2022.
Why did you carry out this research?
Caroline: Adis have been publishing plain language summaries (PLS) since 2017, and we were the first publisher to facilitate publication of PLS on the PubMed platform. Since we started offering authors the opportunity to publish a PLS with their manuscript, we’ve seen an exponential rise in submissions each year.
To put it into context, in the entirety of 2017 we received only eight manuscripts with a PLS. In 2018, this rose to 48 manuscripts. Last year (2021) there were 151 Adis manuscripts published with PLS, and we’ve already published 47 PLS in January 2022!
In terms of value, anecdotally, our specialist and patient readers have told us via social media that they value our PLS. Occasionally, peer reviewers even request that PLS are added to manuscripts to help readers understand the final article. But we’ve never seen any solid research to demonstrate whether they actually lead to increased readership. Since we now have many PLS under our belt, we thought it was a good opportunity to investigate. To try and find the answer, we looked at access to a PLS-containing article as a surrogate of readership. It was also a really good opportunity for Adis as a publisher to collaborate with inScience, our med comms agency within Springer Healthcare, to help establish the importance of PLS for their clients.
What were the main findings?
Steve: When we captured the metrics of 50 open access Adis articles accompanied by a text-format, 250-word PLS and compared them with a similar article without a PLS, we found that the majority (62%) of articles with PLS were accessed significantly more often than the comparator non-PLS-containing article. This was when we applied the 25% cut-off for a ‘significant’ difference in metrics. If we applied a lower cut-off of 10%, then the positive access rate increased further to 68%.
In terms of therapy areas, we saw that ophthalmology, rheumatology, oncology and diabetes were the strongest areas with significantly higher average number of accesses for PLS-containing articles. That said, we saw a benefit associated with including a PLS across all therapy areas.
Were you surprised by any of the results?
Caroline: Yes! We knew that PLS were valued by readers – but didn’t think it would be as clear cut as it was, with such a high rate of increased access.
We were not surprised that diabetes and rheumatology stood out as areas with strong metrics for PLS. In our experience, these have an engaged generalist readership, including lay audiences and patients (due to the fact that these are often chronic disorders). We were not surprised about oncology either. This tends to be a well-researched (or Googled!) area with lots of public interest.
The thing that surprised us the most was how few text PLS we receive and publish compared to other formats. Text-based PLS represent only approximately 25% of all PLS submissions. The rest are submitted in a wide range of formats such as graphical, video, slide sets, or audio slides. Perhaps this is because PLS are still relatively new, and publishing stakeholders haven’t come to a conclusion as to the ‘best’ PLS format yet.
Are you looking to continue this research further?
Steve: Again, yes! This was very much a pilot study, and we have a number of ideas on what we want to do next. For example, we want to explore if other factors may have contributed to the increased readership of articles with PLS – such as whether articles with PLS are more shared on social media or whether other factors are involved.
As Caroline mentioned, there’s currently no consensus on the ‘best’ PLS format so we are also thinking to see if the format of a PLS makes a difference. Do text-based PLS, for example, benefit from higher readership compared with graphical PLS? In this regard, we’d also be interested in looking at whether PubMed indexing of PLS is a driving factor for visibility and findability.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the future of PLS and their place in medical/scientific research?
Caroline: Adis journals are designed for the scientific community. However, the publishing landscape is evolving. Healthcare professionals are busier than ever, with lots of pressure to keep up to date with literature. Also, open access means a much broader range of reader types are accessing medical journals and their content. With these factors in mind, we need to recognise that PLS are needed so that (1) healthcare professionals can digest a quick, bite-sized overview of a paper; and (2) lay audiences can understand the science behind the data without misinterpreting it. So I do think PLS have a place in medical literature, and I believe that more journals will start to adopt them having seen the benefits for their readership. We could even see PLS being mandated in future – for example, Cochrane Reviews already provide a PLS as standard alongside their articles.
Recent ISMPP research shows that healthcare professionals find PLS “very/extremely useful”, and use them as clinical tools to share info with patients (Lobban et al. ‘Do healthcare professionals really value plain language summaries?’ presented at ISMPP EU 2022.). It’s also been reported that PLS hosted on accessible journal platforms are likely to be shared by patients and patient advocacy groups. It’s great to see this type of feedback on the utility of PLS within the healthcare and lay communities. The future of PLS in medical publishing is promising – I believe we’ll see more PLS in future, and wider dissemination.
Steve: I completely agree with Caroline, PLS are becoming an increasingly important means of communicating to time-crunched HCPs and engaged patients alike. In terms of the future, we probably need more research on what formats work best so that we meet (and hopefully exceed) the information needs of a broad range of stakeholders.
Acknowledgements: Steve and Caroline wish to thank their co-authors on this research project, Matt Evans (Adis) and Mel West (InScience), for their time, expertise and collaboration.