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The Royal Marsden School

Video Abstracts for Impact in Applied Health Research – using novel formats to make clinical research findings available to the people it affects: patients and their clinicians

by Cathy Sandsund, Stephan Caspar, Theresa Wiseman, Clare Shaw, and Justin Roe
Thu, 31/10/2019

Introduction and Background

Reporting clinically relevant applied health research findings through publication can be a lengthy process. From manuscript submission, through the imperative peer review process and conversion to final publication, then ultimately, joining the body of published scientific research that contributes to the topic knowledge available. It is a criticism of clinical research that much of this remains behind a ‘paywall’ with cost implications that limit access to patients, clinicians, educators and researchers not associated with academic institutions. While this remains a central part of the academic dissemination process, researchers are turning to digital options to communicate the findings so that they are more accessible to public audiences. There is sometimes a tension between old school publishing and the affordances of a new digital era, however researchers who are exploring digital platforms and creating media to support their work are finding novel opportunities to engage with their audiences and new ways to tell their stories.  

Digital work challenges conceptions of form. Whilst we are used to the written word, published in journals and conference materials, video abstracts provide opportunities to include patients, participants and colleagues who can contextualize the work in a clear and thoughtful way representing their views of the work and its potential for impact. In this way minorities gain voices and valuable identities emerge beyond the written word. Communities of practice can find each other and connections may be established. Effective digital work shows rather than tells. It requires a reading of body language and emotion to support content and findings whilst maintaining the rigour and robustness of good research.

Digital abstract offers rapid dissemination of research findings from clinical practice, ensuring immediate impact of work in a rapidly changing healthcare setting. Work can be disseminated across the web, reaching a global research community in an open and accessible way. Papers published by Sage that have accompanying video abstracts are reported to be three times more likely to be downloaded (Spicer, 2014). Digital dissemination has gathered pace in recent years with researchers actively sharing details of their research and findings through online services, including Twitter, Facebook, ResearchGate and (Pemmaraju et al. 2017). So, a flipped-delivery where a video abstract can be released ahead of conferences, ensuring deeper questioning and an enhanced level of engagement with audiences. This technique has led to constructive discussions, ongoing working collaborations and opportunities for our authors.

We feel that there are ethical considerations in the time lag from project completion to the findings informing practice need to be addressed; researchers have an obligation to share their work at the earliest opportunity following the completion of the peer review process. This may allow for the work to be compared against accepted knowledge more quickly, this is particularly important in applied health research as the pace of change in medical and surgical treatments (with different consequences) offered to patients is changing rapidly in many clinical settings. Additionally, it could give a platform to work that does not produce positive or significant findings, this too has value to science but often fails to be published for multiple reasons such as publication bias or researcher reputation (Song et al. 2012). 

A barrier and challenge for some researchers is in making the change from written word to digital form, to gain expertise and confidence in the use of visual language and the adjustment of tone. This is likely to be less of a barrier for the tech savvy new graduates and early implementers of technology. 

Skills of effective design and production

Video work requires a development of skillset, even in collaboration with specialist technical colleagues, researchers need to be able to speak to camera, illustrate their work through the use of visual metaphor and identify the key stories within their work.

There are a number of steps to ensure an effective video abstract, and this lies in good preparation, seeking appropriate permissions and involving participants at an early stage. A script or similar prompt of the main abstract details is helpful, as is thinking creatively of the most effective way to visualise and illustrate concepts and findings. In some cases this might be best represented by a straightforward piece to camera or closer to a short documentary, dependent on appropriateness of subject matter, considerations around access, time and cost.

Researchers may choose to engage specialist broadcast professionals or use their mobile devices to secure quality sound and visuals, the important consideration should be to the confidence of ensuring consistent production values, ensuring clear image, choice of framing, choice of location, audio quality, lighting and use of colour. Important considerations should be made to the need to tell a story through a sequence of shots and edit them together in a way that is effective and engaging.

Choices made in the edit determine the importance of key visual indicators and emphasis on elements of content. The editor will need to cut with the reality of what has been shot and to a certain extent the script or preparatory notes will be need to be set aside to gain the optimal impact for the key messages of the story.  

Skilful design, production and choice of formatting are the necessary components for the accessibility of the work. There are many channels for work to be disseminated; some are more suited to public engagement, institutional websites and even opportunities with established publishers to host digital content. Most allow for further sharing of the work and signposting to further relevant resources. 


The video abstract format supports engagement with the team for patients and research participants to be more familiar with their clinical researchers on a more personal level. The team tacitly convey their core values through this style of communication. 

Engaging the research participants in delivering the key clinical messages adds credibility for patients and their families and narrows the perceived gap between members of the whole team redressing power-imbalances (Health Foundation, 2017). By doing this we aim to inform people so that they can take more active roles in decisions about their care and how they engage with available information. This active engagement with teams is understood to impact on peoples’ health outcomes and their experience of the care (NHS England, n.d.). And for the research participants themselves it further reinforces the knowledge that their participation has had positive and lasting consequences.


Using Video Abstracts offers benefits not only in rapid dissemination of clinically relevant findings but also its ability to speak directly to groups not able to engage with it before. It gives an opportunity to provide context and understanding around research projects.  It reflects a change in the way we all communicate, search and absorb information and data. This is an opportunity afforded by advances in technology and increased access to the tools and resources required to create digital work. Researchers need to gain confidence with this technology to better harness the affordances of this work that helps them to communicate with users, providers, educators, researchers and planners of applied health services and research.  


NHS England (n.d.) Patient activation. Available at: [Accessed 31/10/2019]. 
Pemmaraju, N., Thompson, M. A., Mesa, R. A., & Desai, T. (2017). Analysis of the use and impact of Twitter during American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meetings from 2011 to 2016: focus on advanced metrics and user trends. Journal of Oncology Practice, 13(7), e623-e631. 

Song, F., Hooper, L., & Loke, Y. (2013). Publication bias: what is it? How do we measure it? How do we avoid it? Open Access Journal of Clinical Trials, 2013(5), 71-81. 

Spicer, S. R. (2014). Exploring Video Abstracts in Science Journals: An Overview and Case Study. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, 2(2), p.eP1110. 
The Health Foundation (2017) Section 3: Extending influence and widening impact. Available at: [Accessed 31/10/2019].

Additional resources:

Caspar, S. (2016) Creating a video abstract. Available at: [Accessed 31/10/2019]. 

University Affairs (2013) Video abstracts for beginners. Available at: [Accessed 31/10/2019]

Dickerson, V. (2014) Using video abstracts to promote readership. Available at: [Accessed 31/10/2019]. 

Contact details:

Author affiliations: 
Cathy Sandsund1, 2, Stephan Caspar2, Theresa Wiseman1, 2, Clare Shaw1, Justin Roe1, 3, 4
1The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust 
2University of Southampton 
3Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust 
4Imperial College London
The authors are all also on Twitter: @CathySandsund @dotsandspaces @gtwiseman @ClareShawRD @justinroe