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:
- Antibody tests for COVID-19: new evidence on test accuracy and some considerations
- “Stay at home” rules: what makes people more likely to stick to quarantine?
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers: new Cochrane evidence
- COVID-19 evidence: a Cochrane round-up
- Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus): new Cochrane evidence
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:
- Easing the strain: put your feet up for constipation
- Tubal flushing: might it help you get pregnant?
- Everything I needed to know about the menopause… No One Told Me
- Ear drops to remove earwax: what works and is it worth the bother?
- 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.
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:
- Evidence for Allied Health: new evidence and resources – Autumn 2020
- Evidence for Nursing: new evidence and resources – Autumn 2020
- Evidence for Maternity Care: new evidence and resources – Autumn 2020
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.
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.
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.
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
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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.