Plain language summaries (PLS) are intended to widen the accessibility of published research findings in a non-technical language.1,2 The stakeholders of PLS are time-poor specialists, non-specialist healthcare professionals, as well as patients, carers and journalists.
PLS are often published on journal websites linked to the original articles: however, they are difficult to locate because they are not found by regular search engines.3
PubMed is a database used by researchers and healthcare providers to access biomedical publications. Publishers, or in some instances, authors, add and index a PubMed entry for each article following the XML guide. We identified three meta-tags used to index publications that are written in non-technical language:
Summary for patients is a document type that summarises a single article in non-technical language. The summaries are intended for patients or the lay public to explain, in non-technical terms, the scientific or medical findings reported in the full article that is accessible through the publisher’s website. PubMed records of original publications that have corresponding summaries for patients have been accessible using the tag ‘hassummaryforpatientsin’ since 2003.
Plain language summary is an enhancement that was added to PubMed in February 2019. In some cases, the full text of PLS is provided by the publisher and appears below the abstract of an original article in the PubMed record. PLS can be retrieved through an untagged search on PubMed.
Patient education handout is a summary intended for patients or the lay public to explain a procedure or condition or summarise or comment on articles that report scientific or medical findings. These summaries are designed for physicians to share with patients or to assist physicians in talking to patients. PubMed introduced patient education handouts in 2002, and to date, it is the only publication type on PubMed written for a consumer audience. Currently, there are no unique Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) terms or tags for patient education handouts.
On 28 August 2019, searches were conducted in PubMed using tagging terms ‘hassummaryforpatientsin’ or ‘patient education handout’ or ‘plain-language-summary’ for articles from 1 January 2018. The route to the tagged lay material was mapped for each of the three tagging terms. From the search results returned, documents identified from the three meta-tags were categorised as either PLS linked to a journal article or standalone patient information. We collated the information on which journals were indexing these documents using the meta-tags.
The user journey into discovering non-technical summaries using different meta-tags on PubMed:
Most PLS were found using 'plain language summary'. A considerable number of PLS (N=116) were found searching for patient education handout.
Different journals have non-overlapping preferences in PLS tagging.
In order to establish PubMed as a repository for PLS that can be found using regular search engines, we recommend:
The proposed layperson-friendly route of finding a PLS:
1. Gardner, J et al. Evaluation of plain-language summaries (PLS): optimizing readability and format. Poster presentation at the ISMPP European Meeting, London, UK, January 22–23, 2019 and the 15th Annual Meeting of ISMPP, National Harbor, MD, USA, April 15–17, 2019.
The authors gratefully acknowledge Elaine Wilson (McCann Health) for early initiation of the project and Kate Majewski (NIH) for guidance and information on PubMed meta-tags and review of this poster.
All authors participated in the research. The abstract was prepared by Caroline Shepherd, Gemma Fisher and Jason Gardner. The poster was prepared by Caroline Shepherd, Jolanta Beinarovica and Jason Gardner. All authors provided feedback and final approval for the poster.
Poster presented at the ISMPP European Meeting, London, UK, 21–22 January 2020.