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Clinical Quality - What makes a good abstract

A large number of abstracts are submitted to the clinical effectiveness (now Clinical Quality) section of the national BGS meetings. The BGS, in its endeavours to assure the good quality of the work presented at its conferences, has a relatively stringent adjudication process for abstracts submitted for its bi-annual meetings, resulting in a 40 - 50 per cent rejection rate. Owing to the volume of abstracts submitted, it is not possible to provide individual feedback to those authors whose abstracts have been rejected. It is also an unfortunate truth that a good clinical quality project may be rejected simply because the abstract was badly flawed.

This article explores common pitfalls which result in an abstract being rejected. It is intended to guide authors in the hope of improving the quality of work presented and increasing the chances of having their abstract accepted. Key changes to abstract categories and headings are also introduced (see previous article).

Pick your topic wisely
One of the main reasons for abstracts being rejected is the ‘so what?’ factor. To avoid your project falling foul of an adjudicator thinking, ‘so what?’, when reading your abstract, ask yourself:

•  Why would others be interested in this topic? 
•  Does it have a useful message which may be applied to practitioners outside your unit?
•  Is it a previously under-evaluated topic?
•  Does it use a new approach to tackle known problem?

If you have three ‘yeses’, you are in a good position to proceed!

The sub-categories of Clinical Quality (CQ) can then be used to decide whether the topic is relevant to the CQ section. The new categories, as of the Spring 2015 meeting are: effectiveness; efficiency and value for money; patient centredness; safety; improved access.

Choose the right method and evaluation
Audit is a valid tool for evaluating certain interventions. However, audit standards must be clearly stated and the audit cycle must be completed at least once, following the implementation of a defined, relevant change. Remember, it is the intervention that is of interest, not your ability to perform an audit.

Evaluations of new service development, are encouraged. Avoid simply describing how the service operates; explain what you did and the improvements you saw, the challenges you faced. What would you do differently if you started again? What local population, or service factors might have influenced the outcome, or affect the ability for others to implement it?

Often abstracts are rejected because they did not undergo adequate evaluation. Ensure end points directly relate to the intervention. Interpretation of results should give attention to confounders. Colleagues need to be able to trust that they could implement your work in their own units and be reasonably confident of the outcome. Consequently, recommendations and conclusions mus be supported by the results.

It is accepted that some exceptional innovations may take time to demonstrate a desired end point. This is particularly the case in community interventions, for example, introduced with the intention of reducing emergency admissions. Additional interim proxy end points might need to be evaluated so that the innovation can be shared at an early stage before a significant effect is demonstrated. If this is the case it will need to be explained as part of the abstract.

Increasingly the term ‘qualitative’ is being used to describe informal discussions or questionnaires followed by broad qualitative statements to describe the success or otherwise of the initiative. However, whether using qualitative or quantitative evaluation, the methodology must be appropriately chosen, clearly explained and results demonstrated.

Check that you abstract doesn’t belong in the scientific research section!
While both qualitative and quantitative methods might be used to evaluate an outcome, be sure that your project is not a research study. Regardless of the relevance to clinical quality outcomes, research studies must be submitted to the scientific section of the meeting.

If your project is a research study, check whether you need ethics approval. If you are unsure, your local research and development team will be able to advise. If there is any concern whether ethical approval was required, the abstract will be rejected. For example, if your intervention is not considered part of routine clinical care at your institution, advice should be sought. Projects requiring ethics approval to proceed, tend to be categorised as ‘research’.

Jo Preston
Jonathan Treml
Gill Turner
On behalf of the abstracts assessors from the Clinical Quality Group

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