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

J Clin Epidemiol. 2015 Feb;68(2):182-90. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2014.04.009. Epub 2014 Jul 14.


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.

Keywords: Communication; Comprehension; Consumer satisfaction; Information dissemination; Patient education as topic; Review literature as topic.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Access to Information*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Canada
  • Communication*
  • Comprehension*
  • Decision Making
  • Europe
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Language
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Research Report
  • Review Literature as Topic*