The most important actionable messages
included in high quality systematic reviews
are rarely written in language that non-researchers can understand. Preparing user friendly summaries of these
key messages is essential in ensuring that patients and their
families providers managers and organizations and
policymakers can use key messages in their
decision-making. Welcome to module four in the finding and
using research evidence a guide for citizens
course. In this module we’ll focus on evidence
summaries. Citizens interested in finding research
evidence that is relevant to them are often
frustrated by the fact that there are many studies out there, they
are difficult to understand, and it’s also difficult to know which ones are high
quality and yield the messages that are actionable. Research is being conducted and published
constantly but the majority of this research is
based on single studies which although
valuable are not the best source for providing more
generalizable answers about pressing health questions. This is because they often focus on a single
population group with a defined age range and ethnic cultural
background and often focuses on populations living in a
particular geographical area. They also focus on very specific interventions
and very specific outcomes which may not be
relatable to everyone who’s accessing this piece of
information. Syntheses of single studies, which scientists
often call systematic reviews, help to piece together the takeaway
messages about specific research questions based on all of the available single studies. However while reviews are the best source
for providing answers to citizens’ health
questions they aren’t always packaged in ways that
enables citizens to understand them. One of the potential solutions to overcome the
frustration that many patients and citizens
face when accessing research evidence is to prepare summaries of research
evidence, provided in user-friendly formats, and that package systematic review not
single studies in ways that make it easier for
patients and citizens to use to inform their
own decisions. We mentioned that reviews are the best
source of evidence to help citizens answer
their health questions but they’re often not packaged in user-friendly
ways. User-friendly summaries try to overcome this
challenge by building on high quality reviews, highlighting the key messages from them, and then distilling the findings into actionable
messages for citizens and patients. One specific illustration of an attempt to make
systematic reviews easier to use by citizens
and patients is provided by the McMaster Optimal
Aging Portal. The McMaster Optimal Aging Portal makes it
easy for citizens to identify relevant evidence
summaries Which, as mentioned earlier, are an approach
to help citizens understand and identify the
very few systematic reviews available that are both high quality and
contain actionable messages. The evidence summaries prepared by the
Portal are easy to identify by topic or through
their relationship to other resources. They provide an actionable message in the
form of a declarative title and simplified
versions of the research question addressed to help citizens
quickly identify whether the review was relevant to them and
the questions that they have. The evidence summaries contained on the
McMaster Optimal Aging Portal also provide a
quality score which helps citizens determine whether the
review is a good resource for them to use. Information about how the research was
done and what the major findings were are also
included so that citizens can easily determine what the
relevant take away messages are from the
reviews. While evidence summaries are helpful they only provide an answer to one specific
health question a citizen may have and are not presented in the context of all of
the other relevant evidence and information
about a given topic which means they don’t contain personal
insights that help people consider how the research
relates to them. As such they only provide partial answers to
the many interrelated questions citizens may
have about their health. The way that most high quality systematic
reviews are written makes it very difficult for
non researchers to understand what they are saying. Not only do they contain a lot of information
about the research process they also contain a lot of information that’s
targeted to other researchers. Being able to
distill only the most important messages is essential for helping non researchers
understand the actionable messages from
high quality systematic reviews.