Tag Archives: Plain English abstracts

Plain English Abstract: Trends in deaths from abdominal aortic aneurysms

Mortality from abdominal aortic aneurysm: trends in European Union 15+ countries from 1990 to 2017

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm or AAA is an abnormal swelling of the aorta, the biggest artery in the body. It usually occurs people over 65, especially men. An AAA can occasionally burst, leading to life-threatening bleeding. An AAA can be easily detected using a simple ultrasound scan. AAA screening programmes are now available in a number of countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States. These AAA screening programmes have allowed us to better understand how many people in society have an AAA. In the last decade, it has become apparent in some countries that the number of people who have an AAA is decreasing. Some research suggested that the number of people who die due to AAA is also dropping. This was, however, never assessed in European countries using data of high-quality. 

In this open access article, researchers accessed information from the “Global Burden of Disease Study Global Health Data Exchange”. This source allows us to understand how many people might be dying due to a certain medical problem. The researchers then reported how many people die due to AAA every year per country, also taking people’s age into account. The study found that between the years 1990 and 2017 the death rate from AAA decreased in all 19 European Union countries for women, and in 18 of 19 countries for men. An increasing death rate due to AAA was observed only for men in Greece. The largest decreases were observed in Australia and Canada. Interestingly, in the last few years (after 2012) there seem to be small increases again in the rates of death due to an AAA in most of these countries. Overall, this study shows that AAA has become a less common cause of death in most European and Western countries in the last 27 years. 

Plain English Summary: How the first COVID‐19 wave affected UK vascular services

Global overall mean service reductions, worldwide response, and service reduction scores in the UK and the Americas
Global overall mean service reductions, worldwide response, and service reduction scores in the UK and the Americas

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted healthcare around the world. Patients who have vascular disease (problems with their arteries or veins), are at high-risk of having complications if they develop COVID-19. This is because patients with vascular disease usually have many medical problems. Some of them are also elderly and might be frail. We do not know how the COVID-19 pandemic might have affected the care of patients with vascular disease. 

The COVER study is an international study trying to assess how the COVID-19 pandemic changed the medical care of patients with vascular disease. The first part of the COVER study was an internet survey. In this survey, doctors and healthcare professionals were asked questions (every week) about the care of vascular patients at their hospital. The results were published in this article.

The results showed that the COVID‐19 pandemic had a major impact on vascular services worldwide. Most of the 249 hospitals taking part from 53 countries, reported big reductions in numbers of operations performed and the types of services they could offer to patients with vascular disease. Almost half of the hospitals stopped doing routine scans to detect artery problems and a third had to stop all clinics in the height of the pandemic. There were major changes in the resources available to treat blocked leg arteries. Most non-urgent operations, especially for vein problems, were cancelled.

In the months during recovery from the pandemic peaks, there will be a big backlog of patients with vascular disease needing surgery or review by vascular specialists.

Surgical research in Plain English

Randomized controlled trial of plain English and visual abstracts for disseminating surgical research via social media

BJS started with the aim of of being a medium through which surgeons “can make our voice intelligibly heard”, according to Sir Rickman Godlee, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1913.

The aim of a recently published paper in BJS was to increase the engagement (defined compositely as the total number of replies, retweets, or likes on Twitter) of clinicians and patients in the communication of surgical research – part of the core values of BJS.

Ibrahim et al. showed in the Annals of Surgery that visual abstracts increased engagement on Twitter in their case-control study, but plain English summaries have not previously been studied in the context of surgical research. Plain English summaries are becoming a real priority for funders (e.g. NIHR), as well as for clinical practice (BMJ, AoMRC). Patients are involved in the development of research, and need to have access to it.

This was a three-arm, randomized controlled trial with crossover of two intervention arms. Manuscripts that were eligible for inclusion were randomly allocated to three arms and disseminated via Twitter. The arms were standard tweets, plain English abstracts & visual abstracts.

Visual abstracts are a simplified graphical summary of a study’s scientific abstract. Plain English abstracts were developed according to NIHR INVOLVE ‘make it clear’ guidance and edited to satisfy a minimum readability index.

The primary outcome was online engagement by the public within 14 days of dissemination. The secondary outcome was online engagement by healthcare professionals.

The results can be seen in the visual abstract, with more details available in the paper. Overall: visual abstracts attracted a greater number of total engagements than plain English abstracts, and engagement by members of the public was low across all abstract types.

Note that this study only looked for the potential benefits from the point of view of the journal – not data from the perspective of patients, although a Twitter poll suggested that there was an appetite for informing the public about the findings of research studies.

More work needs to be done in collaboration with the public to understand how and in what format they prefer to engage with surgical research. We need to avoid soundbites of results, and instead provide a balanced & educated interpretation, to help to counter the avalanche of false information to which the public is exposed.