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How can we improve plain language summaries?


  • International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) Working Group discussed key issues relating to plain language summaries (PLS) with 29 expert stakeholders.
  • Participants identified actionable items to overcome barriers to PLS uptake, with the hope to inform future industry-recognised guidelines.

Plain language summaries (PLS) can help broaden the reach of medical research to lay audiences and counter health misinformation – a key issue highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent advances in PLS include Open Pharma recommendations, the ‘how-to’ guide for multi-stakeholder co-creation from Patient Focused Medicines Development, and PLS of Publication, a new journal article type from the Future Science Group. Despite these advances, uptake of PLS as enhancements to medical publications has been slow, and there are no standardised procedures for their development or dissemination.

“Further guidance is needed…to encourage PLS uptake and ensure best practice for developing and publishing these important summaries.”

A recent study by Drs Dawn Lobban, Jason Gardner, and Robert Matheis from the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) PLS Perspectives Working Group gathered multi-stakeholder insights into challenges relating to PLS of pharmaceutical company-sponsored research, with the aim to inform future industry-wide guidelines. The participants, who included experts representing the pharmaceutical industry, publishers, medical education agencies, patient partners, healthcare professionals, and media, identified key opportunities to accelerate PLS uptake:

  • Target end users to highlight unmet need and advocate for PLS.
  • Establish a clear directive for when publications should have a PLS.
  • Call on key journals to lead the way by publishing PLS.
  • Provide guidance on optimal co-creation for PLS stakeholders, and tools to facilitate content development (eg, templates).
  • Develop industry-wide guidelines to define and maintain PLS quality.
  • Use specialist PLS writers and/or undertake PLS training for medical writers and researchers (including patients).
  • Clarify optimal format and development process for PLS.
  • Facilitate PLS dissemination and easy access (eg, searchable repository).
  • Work with patient advocacy groups/charities and use social media to expand the reach of PLS.

Results of this study, published in Current Medical Research and Opinion, set out clear targets to help overcome the challenges with PLS development. We hope to see these and other findings implemented into future best practices for PLS, to facilitate the communication of new medical research to patients, caregivers, and other audiences.


Do you think industry-wide guidelines on PLS will help improve their uptake?

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