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Open Access Research

A qualitative study into the difficulties experienced by healthcare decision makers when reading a Cochrane diagnostic test accuracy review

Zhivko Zhelev1*, Ruth Garside2 and Christopher Hyde1

Author Affiliations

1 Peninsula Technology Assessment Group (PenTAG), University of Exeter Medical School, University of Exeter, Veysey Building, Salmon Pool Lane, Exeter EX2 4SG, UK

2 European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School, University of Exeter, Knowledge Spa, Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro TR1 3HD, UK

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Systematic Reviews 2013, 2:32  doi:10.1186/2046-4053-2-32

Published: 16 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Cochrane reviews are one of the best known and most trusted sources of evidence-based information in health care. While steps have been taken to make Cochrane intervention reviews accessible to a diverse readership, little is known about the accessibility of the newcomer to the Cochrane library: diagnostic test accuracy reviews (DTARs). The current qualitative study explored how healthcare decision makers, who varied in their knowledge and experience with test accuracy research and systematic reviews, read and made sense of DTARs.

Methods

A purposive sample of clinicians, researchers and policy makers (n = 21) took part in a series of think-aloud interviews, using as interview material the first three DTARs published in the Cochrane library. Thematic qualitative analysis of the transcripts was carried out to identify patterns in participants’ ‘reading’ and interpretation of the reviews and the difficulties they encountered.

Results

Participants unfamiliar with the design and methodology of DTARs found the reviews largely inaccessible and experienced a range of difficulties stemming mainly from the mismatch between background knowledge and level of explanation provided in the text. Experience with systematic reviews of interventions did not guarantee better understanding and, in some cases, led to confusion and misinterpretation. These difficulties were further exacerbated by poor layout and presentation, which affected even those with relatively good knowledge of DTARs and had a negative impact not only on their understanding of the reviews but also on their motivation to engage with the text. Comparison between the readings of the three reviews showed that more accessible presentation, such as presenting the results as natural frequencies, significantly increased participants’ understanding.

Conclusions

The study demonstrates that authors and editors should pay more attention to the presentation as well as the content of Cochrane DTARs, especially if the reports are aimed at readers with various levels of background knowledge and experience. It also raises the question as to the anticipated target audience of the reports and suggests that different groups of healthcare decision-makers may require different modes of presentation.

Keywords:
Cochrane reviews; Diagnostic accuracy; Sensitivity and specificity; Qualitative research; Think -aloud interview