Lay summaries work!

We recently came across this paper describing the benefits of a plain language summary (lay summary) in the effective communication of systematic review findings. Participants found the plain language summary to be more reliable and easier to understand compared to a tradition non-lay summary.

A summary to communicate evidence from systematic reviews to the public improved understanding and accessibility of information: a randomized controlled trial.

Santesso N, et al. J Clin Epidemiol. 2015.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate a new format of a summary, which presents research from synthesized evidence to patients and the public.

STUDY DESIGN AND SETTING: We conducted a randomized controlled trial in 143 members of the public from five countries (Canada, Norway, Spain, Argentina, and Italy). Participants received either a new summary format (a plain language summary [PLS]) or the current format used in Cochrane systematic reviews. The new PLS presents information about the condition and intervention, a narrative summary of results, and a table of results with absolute numbers for effects of the intervention and quality of the evidence using Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation.

RESULTS: With the new PLS, more participants understood the benefits and harms and quality of evidence (53% vs. 18%, P < 0.001); more answered each of the five questions correctly (P ≤ 0.001 for four questions); and they answered more questions correctly, median 3 (interquartile range [IQR]: 1-4) vs. 1 (IQR: 0-1), P < 0.001). Better understanding was independent of education level. More participants found information in the new PLS reliable, easy to find, easy to understand, and presented in a way that helped make decisions. Overall, participants preferred the new PLS.

CONCLUSION: This new PLS format for patients and the public is a promising tool to translate evidence from synthesized research.