Evidently Cochrane: Reflections on a different year, and looking ahead

In the final Evidently Cochrane blog of the year, Sarah Chapman and Selena Ryan-Vig, Cochrane UK’s Knowledge Brokers, take a look back at some highlights on the blog in 2020.

I think we can all be forgiven for wanting to see the back of 2020. We may not want to do much looking back, but rather run to meet 2021 with the hope that, surely, things will be better… But making the best available evidence accessible to a wide audience through blogs seems more important than ever, as does helping people to think critically about claims about treatments. We feel that much of the value of the blogs comes from the sharing of expertise and experience alongside the evidence, with patients, health professionals, researchers and review authors bringing their (often multiple) perspectives to it. We are really grateful to everyone who has blogged for us this year.

A different year

The pandemic has, of course, affected what we have shared on Evidently Cochrane this year and also its reach. Last year, as we reflected on 2019 and looked forward to 2020, we hoped that Evidently Cochrane would reach one million views. We have happily surpassed that, with around 1.54 million views, up 60% compared to the same period last year (around 600,000 more views).

Cochrane is responding to the pandemic by producing rapid reviews of new evidence on priority topics that are relevant to coronavirus (COVID-19) and/or health and health care during the pandemic, and these are updated as new evidence emerges. We have blogged about some of these reviews and it is perhaps no surprise that the five most-viewed blogs published this year all relate to evidence on COVID-19:

  1. Antibody tests for COVID-19: new evidence on test accuracy and some considerations
  2. “Stay at home” rules: what makes people more likely to stick to quarantine?
  3. Personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers: new Cochrane evidence
  4. COVID-19 evidence: a Cochrane round-up
  5. Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus): new Cochrane evidence

You can find out more about Cochrane’s response to the pandemic and read the rest of our blogs on coronavirus (COVID-19).

Unsurprisingly, the five most-viewed blogs published this year all relate to evidence on coronavirus (COVID-19).

What about the most-read blogs this year, regardless of when they were published? Here we see a number of older blogs, which continue to receive many views:

  1. Easing the strain: put your feet up for constipation
  2. Tubal flushing: might it help you get pregnant?
  3. Everything I needed to know about the menopause… No One Told Me
  4. Ear drops to remove earwax: what works and is it worth the bother?
  5. Antibody tests for COVID-19: new evidence on test accuracy and some considerations

We update our blogs, as and when the evidence is updated, so the blogs remain current and readers can be confident they are reading about the latest information.

Our readers

While 2020 has been unusual in many ways, and COVID-19 has dominated the content we have shared, we have continued to serve the evidence needs of our usual key audiences as well. This year, we refreshed our three evidence series for health professionals and clinical support staff working in maternity care, nursing and allied health. The main offering in these series is a new quarterly round-up of evidence and resources. The first of these can be found below, and we will share the next ones in January 2021:

We’ve also continued to share blogs for patients and others making health choices for themselves or family members in our ever-popular Evidence for Everyday Health Choices series.

Some of our blogs receive a large volume of comments and continue to do so long after publication (although our policy of updating blogs when the reviews are updated ensures the evidence is current). Although we cannot give clinical advice, bloggers may respond to comments with further thoughts or highlight additional sources of information. Some people welcome the opportunity to read about the experiences of others who have posted comments, and to share their own.

We are beginning some work to explore what we can learn from this about what readers are looking for when they come to the blogs, what the blogs – and indeed comments from others – give them, and what adjustments we might make to better serve our readers. 

Special series

We ran two special series this year. We began with a focus on children and young people’s mental health, and near the close of the year we focused on cancer, with communication a strong theme. Contemplating cancer: a special series from Cochrane UK seemed to us to exemplify the very best of what we have on Evidently Cochrane, with bloggers sharing their expertise and experiences as patients, clinicians and researchers (often with dual perspectives) in reflecting on the available evidence. We also hosted a discussion on Twitter on communicating about cancer, which drew insightful conversation from a wide range of people, and which we captured in a blog. We were also really pleased to depart from stock images to use art to illustrate the blogs, in consultation with the bloggers.

painting of a woman looking out of the window
Bloggers chose some of the images in our ‘Contemplating Cancer’ series. Liz O’Riordan, who blogged about communicating about cancer from her perspective both as a doctor and a patient, chose this image ‘Waiting #1’ by Andy Farr (@andyfarrart). She explains: “If you’ve never received bad news yourself, as a doctor it’s hard to imagine the impact your words have on the patients who hear them. The moment I knew I had cancer, it was as if a lightbulb had gone off. My life was on hold. How much of it did I have left? I had to sit and watch the rest of the world carry on as normal, hoping one day I would be able to join them again.”

Our next special series, in March 2021, will look at ‘living with long-term conditions’. We are looking forward to working with our new Cochrane UK Consumer Champions as we begin planning this series early in the new year. The following special series, in the summer, will explore aspects of healthy ageing.

Choosing images for sharing evidence

Using art, including that created by people from their illness experiences, is one of many aspects of choosing images for blogs and other dissemination products that we have discussed and experimented with over the years. This year, the pandemic has introduced new considerations for image choice, as we have needed to reflect changes such as mask-wearing and social distancing. We have explored these and other issues in producing Choosing images for sharing evidence: a guide. It is freely available and whilst intended for people sharing Cochrane evidence we hope it will be useful and interesting to others. We explain more about it in this blog: Choosing images for sharing evidence: new guidance from Cochrane.

Helping people think critically about evidence and treatment claims

In 2020, the need for a good public understanding of evidence and uncertainty has perhaps never been greater. Promoting awareness and understanding of healthcare research and evidence is one of our key objectives, always. This year, we ran a special series of blogs to help readers question health claims. We were also really pleased to see the launch of iHealthFacts, a fact-checking service allowing the public to quickly and easily check the reliability of health claims they have encountered on social media or elsewhere. See examples of submitted questions and researched answers (many of which, unsurprisingly,  relate to COVID-19).

More accessible content

Making evidence as accessible and understandable as possible has always been a priority when writing and editing blogs. For example, we always aim to explain (or avoid!) jargon and are mindful about using plain language. However, making our content accessible is about more than how the blogs are written – it is also about functions and features of the Evidently Cochrane website itself.

This year we’ve been able to make changes to the website to improve its accessibility for all. These improvements were guided by Masters’ students on the Inclusive Design course at City, University of London, who evaluated the site for problems that might arise for people with a range of impairments. The resulting changes include some improvements that many readers may find useful, such as options to change the font size and contrast, as well as features that improve accessibility for those using screen readers, for example. You can read more about that in this blog: Web accessibility and Evidently Cochrane: making our blog more accessible to all.

A young visually-impaired woman on an adapted computer, using a screen reader
This year we have made changes to Evidently Cochrane to improve its accessibility for people with a wide range of disabilities, with thanks to students at the University of London, and to Minervation.

Looking forward with hope

Something that has been mentioned by a number of people who have read reflections of personal experience alongside the evidence, and felt moved to share their own stories in the comments, is that they have found here something that gives them hope. 

We will be back with new blogs from 5th January but for now, as we look forward to a brighter 2021, we would like to leave you with a poem that feels fitting for 2020, and offers hope for a new year:

“This is the time to be slow,

Lie low to the wall

Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let 

The wire brush of doubt 

Scrape from your heart

All sense of yourself

And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,

Time will come good;

And you will find your feet

Again on fresh pastures of promise, 

Where the air will be kind

And blushed with beginning.”

― John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Evidently Cochrane: sharing health evidence you can trust

Blogs for patients and others making health choices, with clear explanations of health evidence in context For those working in maternity care, nursing and allied health, quarterly collections of evidence and resources, plus occasional blogs Many blogs include experience and reflections from patients and carers, health professionals and researchers Medical and research jargon kept to a minimum, or explained Helping people to think critically about evidence and treatment claims Occasional special series on broad health topics Blogs are updated, as and when the evidence is updated 

Join in the conversation on Twitter with @SarahChapman30 and @CochraneUK  or leave a comment on the blog. Please note, we cannot give medical advice and we will not publish comments that link to commercial sites or appear to endorse commercial products. We welcome diverse views and encourage discussion. However we ask that comments are respectful and reserve the right to not publish comments we consider offensive.

Sarah Chapman and Selena Ryan-Vig have nothing to disclose.

Sarah Chapman’s biography appears below, read Selena Ryan-Vig’s biography.

Evidently Cochrane: Reflections on a different year, and looking ahead by Sarah Chapman

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

2 Comments on this post

  1. Thank you Sarah and Selena for this end of year blog; read in early January. As well as facilitating some catch-up, it is great to read of the various initiatives that have helped and will continue to help me, and I am sure many others, understand better the evidence and making it accessible; such as image selection.
    As a Cochrane Author and Editor, I know first hand the amazing way you have helped render the messages from our dry reviews to something that people will relate to. All the while not losing sight of the evidence, in particular when the evidence is insufficient. This means I and others can read your blogs and look at your blogshots with confidence.
    Many thanks for helping make some sense out of 2020.
    All the best for this new year and thank you so much for the work to come. As you note the “need for a good public understanding of evidence and uncertainty has [perhaps] never been greater”.

    Helen Handoll / Reply
    • Thank you so much Helen for your lovely comments, which are so encouraging. As you know, only possible thanks to the unseen work of our Cochrane UK information team and of course all those who blog for us, as well as many Cochrane colleagues in various roles.Looking forward to another year on the blog and hopefully better times for all in 2021.
      Very best wishes,

      Sarah Chapman / (in reply to Helen Handoll) Reply

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