The importance of the patient perspective is increasingly recognised by the pharmaceutical industry. Who better to help develop novel treatments to improve patients’ lives than patients themselves? Yet the road to patient centricity appears difficult to navigate. Which is where plain language summaries (PLS) come in. A means of easily-accessible, patient-friendly communication, PLS were recently discussed in an article for the MAP newsletter from the International Society of Medical Publications Professionals (ISMPP).
As the authors highlight, patients have access to an abundance of medical information online, yet its frequent distribution via news and social media outlets may risk bias or misinterpretation – particularly in the current era of ‘fake news’. MAP’s article highlights the key role of PLS in communicating peer-reviewed, published research to patients, and outlines the blocks in the road that must be addressed. One such barrier is the use of jargon; research has shown that PLS should be concise and only use technical language where needed. Poor availability of PLS is another issue, and raises the question as to which platforms are most suitable to host them. While open access journals have an important role to play, PLS distribution solely by journals may limit delivery to a patient audience. Some journals are exploring the use of external platforms to facilitate wider sharing; for example, The BMJ have partnered with Kudos.
It seems there is some distance to travel before the potential of PLS is truly unlocked. When it comes to moving forward, MAP’s article suggests it is time for the healthcare community to “stop looking for reasons not to”. All stakeholders, including authors, publishers and medical communication professionals, have an important role to play in driving the progress of PLS towards the ultimate goal of patient centricity. Advocating for accessibility of peer-reviewed research for patients could be a good place to start.