Internet and web pages are becoming the most important source of information connected with health.1 Professional websites are often characterized by difficult language, often foreign or technical, that is not widely understood. Evidence-based knowledge, which is connected with high-quality standards, is used and popular among practitioners but often not accessible for those who do not have basic medical knowledge. In Poland, among the 24 most read websites connected with health, 50% were connected with newspapers or magazines. Studies have found that users focus on the top 10 websites that are listed as a search result.2 On the contrary, according to studies the most visited websites cannot be classified as high-quality source.3,4
As health promotion constitutes an open area for all people, there is a need for translation of evidence-based information into real plain, nonprofessional language. Knowledge translation and dissemination of checked evidence can be fruitful in many fields, like rising health consciousness, building proper communication between practitioners and their patients, or just providing useful advice. Social media remain even more demanding as they usually try to show some facts with just a few words.
The objective of the presented communication is analysis of advantages and difficulties connected with dissemination of evidence-based knowledge on example of plain language summaries (PLSs) shared through social media in Poland.
The Polish branch of an international organization launched a Facebook fan page in March 2016 and a Twitter fan page in November 2016. PLSs translated into Polish are uploaded three times a week as posts and tweets.
The goal of those profiles is presenting a wide range of topics from different fields of medicine: issues connected with alternative medicine interventions for common diseases (like the common cold) to more specific topics (like interventions in cystic fibrosis), so that at the same time we can reach professionals and nonprofessionals. As the idea of a PLS is to describe systematic review results in understandable language, PLSs may facilitate conscious involvement of patients in the process of medical intervention. Moreover, they give practitioners a tool for patients’ education. However, there are some drawbacks that make the PLS idea unexploited. On the basis of our experience, readers can still find in some PLSs nonplain-language terms, for example ‘randomization’ or terms that must be additionally explained by the translator.
Probably the main problem of PLS dissemination in public media is the requirement of briefness, both in form and in conclusions. As we are bound by the original message enclosed in the PLS, it is especially discouraging to readers when the original abstract is more conclusive than the related PLS. The idea of the PLS as the promotion of the whole review should be highlighted in the dissemination guidelines.
All posts or tweets that are published on our fan pages have an introduction composed of a maximum of three sentences based on the main question analysed in the review. On the basis of our experience, professionals expect a short general description of the review topic, while nonprofessionals focus on a catchy introduction. As usually the introduction is a simplification of review's results, the post's introduction may lead to overinterpretation that discourages the professionals. In general, a simple statement suggesting who can benefit from reading the post was found to be most effective.
Finally, it should be highlighted that posts connected with conclusive results are more prone to be ‘liked’ or ‘shared’. The more vital the topic, the higher the engagement we note, though topics found interesting for a Twitter audience are not the same as the most popular among Facebook recipients. For example, in our experience Twitter recipients were more interested in topics connected with supplements, while vaccination was more popular on the Facebook profile. We would like to stress that popularity does not mean all recipients have correctly understood the message, as in our case with the topic about vaccination, the most popular among all our posts, was shared as the evidence on both websites fighting for and against vaccinations. Analysis of the context showed that the results were not understood well.
Even though there are difficulties in dissemination of reliable data, the presence of our fan pages makes a difference, as in 2.5 years we gained about 900 followers and we still work to highlight valuable data on the Internet.
The form of a PLS still requires an improvement, as shorter forms need to choose words more carefully. The PLS should be treated by systematic review authors as the way in which they want to present the research to healthcare consumers and encourage them to read it. Moreover, inconclusive results should be described with special caution in a way that enables recipients to understand the value of such a result.
Conflict of interest
The authors report no conflicts of interest.
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