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How I use the NIHR Dissemination Centre

Date: 02 August 2017

Rater invitation

Back in 2015, I signed up to receive notifications from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Dissemination Centre. If my memory serves me right, I heard about the Dissemination Centre through Twitter (@NIHR_DC). Twitter can be a really useful source of small bits of information which have big impact; great for getting the messages of the NIHR, and research in general, out there.

I had a look on the Dissemination Centre website, which is clear and user-friendly, and subscribed to receive updates on areas of particular interest to me. I regularly keep an eye on the Dissemination Centre’s Twitter account to see what’s going on. The strapline on the Dissemination Centre website is ‘Right evidence, better decisions,’ fitting perfectly with the way we work in the Wounds Research Group – part of the Division of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, and including Cochrane Wounds (@CochraneWounds).

Contributing towards the content: becoming a rater

As well as signing up to receive updates from the Dissemination Centre, I also signed up to be a ‘rater.’ The Dissemination Centre screens and shortlists published abstracts which are potentially useful to clinicians, commissioners and patients. Before disseminating these to a wider audience, the Dissemination Centre seeks the opinion of a sample of users, or raters, by asking them to score the abstract, so that those which are likely to be relevant to readers are prioritised.

Some abstracts may not be appropriate for circulation, perhaps because they report results of a study which cannot be generalised to a UK population, or because they are unlikely to affect practice. Others, which are likely to be useful (as determined in part by the feedback of raters) are promoted via the Dissemination Centre Discover Portal, email bulletins and Twitter as an NIHR signal – a short, critical summary with headline findings put into context.

Being a rater takes up very little time; on average every two or three weeks, I’m sent an email request with a link to an abstract, and asked whether or not I feel happy to rate it, based on my knowledge and experience. To rate the abstract, I give it a score out of six, and submit some very brief comments on the reason(s) for my rating. As a rater, I feel I am able to contribute in some small way towards helping disseminate the right types of health care research – that which is needed, rigorous and applicable to our NHS.

The role also brings to my attention some of the interesting developments in research across the areas I work, and alerts me to articles which I might not necessarily have come across otherwise (unless I had systematically searched for them). Rating may also help when thinking about what makes a good abstract – we all need to get the message of our work across in just a few simple words to maximise its impact! Looking critically at others, I hope, will help me to write better summaries of my research in future.

Publicising research

It’s increasingly recognised that the NIHR is a hallmark of excellence, and by bearing the NIHR badge, the Dissemination Centre has become a trusted source of information. It can help to get the key messages of high quality NIHR-funded research and systematic reviews out to the wider world.

A signal which popped up in my inbox in November 2016 helped to disseminate a programme of work funded by the NIHR – Wounds Research for Patient Benefit – which provided information on the prevalence of complex wounds, where there is currently a lack of good quality, patient-centred research, and which drew up a list of research priorities in the field of pressure ulcers through the James Lind Alliance Pressure Ulcer Partnership.

Whilst I was already aware of this research programme myself, I hope the signal was successful in delivering it to a wide audience. Importantly, I hope it was picked up by clinical teams who can use it to good effect in planning care or indeed future research to tackle the big questions.

As a researcher, I hope linking with the Dissemination Centre and other trusted providers of evidence in healthcare, such as Cochrane (@CochraneUK), will help the dissemination of research findings become simpler and something which is ‘second nature,’ providing the impact we need to positively affect practice.

  • Summary:

    Researcher Ross Atkinson talks about how he uses the Dissemination Centre, the benefits of becoming a rater and the need to publicise good research evidence.

About the author

Ross Atkinson

Research Fellow, Wounds Research Group, University of Manchester

@DrRossAtkinson

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