New guidance and template will help researchers write plain language summaries for diagnostic test reviews

23 November 2018

Researchers have developed a template and guidance on how best to summarise and explain the results of diagnostic test systematic reviews in plain language.

The guidance is aimed at academics, especially Cochrane systematic review authors. The research team, made up of scientists from the Universities of Bristol, Amsterdam, Kansas Medical Center, McMaster and Birmingham, was supported by NIHR CLAHRC West and Sense about Science. It was funded by a research grant from Cochrane.

Diagnostic tests, for example blood tests, X-rays and colonoscopies, are used to help detect diseases. Cochrane diagnostic test accuracy reviews summarise and bring together the evidence from a range of studies on a specific type of test.

Cochrane is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation. Through its reviews, it organises medical research findings to support evidence-based choices about health interventions by health professionals, patients, and policy makers.

Systematic reviews are important for assessing whether a diagnostic test is effective in medical practice. Users of diagnostic tests, including clinicians and patients, need to be able to easily understand the results of these reviews.

A plain language summary is a stand-alone summary of a systematic review and should provide rapid access to its content.

A clear plain language summary is essential to ensure that these reviews are useful to people who are not familiar with the more technical content of the review. Ideally, the summary should be accessible to all potential target audiences, including patients, clinicians, policy makers.

The guidelines were developed through close working with target audiences, including patients, journalists and clinicians.

The team ran focus groups, which then fed into one-to-one user testing of their proposed guidance. They ran a web-based survey at the same time as user testing, to broaden participation from academics, clinicians, patients and journalists. They also held a public engagement event.

They worked closely with Cochrane throughout, including holding workshops with them.

Through this research, the team have produced detailed guidance and a template for researchers who are writing Cochrane reviews of diagnostic tests, or indeed any systematic review of diagnostic tests. The guidance includes patient-approved wording, suggested headings and an overall structure.

The guidance includes real world examples of findings written using them.