13% of physiotherapy guidelines, reviews and trials include a plain-language summary

A plain-language summary is a short and clearly stated version of a study’s results using non-scientific vocabulary. These summaries are useful for both patients and clinicians in the process of shared decision-making. A recent article investigated how commonly plain-language summaries were included in evidence-based clinical practice guidelines, systematic reviews and randomised controlled trials evaluating physiotherapy interventions. The secondary aims were to determine if the available plain-language summaries are at a suitable reading level for a lay person, if inclusion of plain-language summaries is increasing over time, and if the presence of plain-language summaries in trials is associated with trial quality (ie, total PEDro score).

All articles indexed in PEDro in the September 2016 update were included in the analyses (research method, plain-language summary, year of publication, total PEDro score). The proportion of articles containing plain-language summaries was calculated for all articles and then separately for guidelines, reviews and trials. The Flesch Reading Ease Score (range 0-100, higher scores indicate texts that are easier to read) for each plain-language summary was calculated using the Readability Score website. The number of plain-language summaries available each year was evaluated graphically. The total PEDro score of trials that do and do not include a plain-language summary were compared.

From a total of 34,444 articles indexed in PEDro, only 4,421 (13%) had English plain-language summaries – 2,803 were trials (10% of all trials), 1,588 were reviews (25% of all reviews), and 30 were guidelines (5% of all guidelines). The mean (standard deviation) Flesch Reading Ease Score was low: 21 (17) out of 100. Only 0.1% of plain-language summaries were considered a suitable reading level based on the Flesch Reading Ease Score (ie, score 60-100 points). The number of published reports with a plain-language summary doubled between 2010 and 2016. Trials with plain-language summaries had higher total PEDro scores than trials without plain-language summaries (mean difference 0.8 out of 10 points, 95% confidence interval 0.7 to 0.8).

Although the publication of plain-language summaries is increasing over time, the current number corresponds to only 13% of all trials, reviews and guidelines evaluating physiotherapy interventions. The majority of plain-language summaries are written at an advanced reading level.

Carvalho FA, et al. Are plain-language summaries included in published reports of evidence about physiotherapy interventions? Analysis of 4421 randomised trials, systematic reviews and guidelines on the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro). Physiotherapy 2019;105(3):354-61

Sign up to the PEDro Newsletter to receive the latest news