Abstracts needed by December 27th 2015! 

Tips on preparing abstract for the first joint meeting on Spinal Deformity SOSORT IRSSD 2016.

By Eric Parent,
PT, PhD, Schroth and BSPTS therapist, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  


At the core of interesting conferences are the scientific results presented by the clinicians and researchers in attendance. Many SOSORT members and clinicians offering conservative treatments for scoliosis have amazing research and clinical results of interest to the community. Consider this message a call for you to submit summaries of such results for our upcoming conference. Your results should be shared and knowledge translations should occur. 

This short newsletter update aims to motivate you to submit your results for presentations and provide you with tips on preparing a good abstract. The deadline to submit abstract for this year’s SOSORT IRSSD 2016 conference to be held in Banff Canada from May 25 to 28th, 2016 is earlier than in past year and has been set to December 11th 2016. 

Instructions on abstract submission for this year are posted at http://www.sosort-irssd-2016.com/call_for_abstract

Organizers are inviting 3000 characters long abstracts focused on the conservative treatment of spinal deformities. Multiple topics are of interest. 

Historically, SOSORT abstracts have been grouped around treatment approaches including exercises, bracing, some alternative and manual therapies and some surgery. There is usually a section on basic science with content relevant to those involved in the conservative managements of scoliosis. There are sections on radiographic and postural imaging as well as on clinical measurements of outcomes including quality of life. Also, this year, because of the joining forces with IRSSD, abstracts focused on etiology and surgery are also of great interest. 

Many types of studies are accepted for presentations on the effects of treatments including the following study designs: case study, case series, prospective and retrospective cohort studies, controlled studies and randomized clinical trials. There are also measurement studies focused on reliability, validity and ability of measurements to detect important changes in the condition of our patients. Systematic reviews of the literature are also presented as well as results from surveys and the occasional qualitative studies describing the patient’s and their families’ experience. 

Abstracts this year should be prepared and organized under five headings: Introduction, Objectives, Methods, “Results and Discussion”, and “conclusion and significance”. We encourage you to specify the study design and the level of evidence in the method section. Those unfamiliar with determining levels of evidence may want to refer to the Oxford Centre for Evidence Based Medicine 2011 Levels of Evidence table (http://www.cebm.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/CEBM-Levels-of-Evidence-2.1.pdf) and refer to the explanations provided on their clear web site http://www.cebm.net/ocebm-levels-of-evidence/. Levels of evidences are provided for various types of research including problem prevalence, diagnostic accuracy, prognosis, treatment effectiveness, treatment harms, and screening studies. 

Good abstracts should have the following characteristics. Your abstract should be as detailed as possible using as much (but no more than allowed) of the word count provided. This year you can use 3000 characters of text in addition to the titles. Since abstracts are submitted in English, getting a native English speaker to review the quality of the language will be very beneficial. Good English will ensure that reviewers understand what is presented and can focus on the science and clinical relevance of your work. Good English will also ensure that results can be understood by patients and other interested clinicians once the abstracts are published in a supplement of the Scoliosis journal. 

The introduction section should typically be among the shortest of the abstract. The Methods and results should be the most detailed sections. The introduction should summarize what is known about the subject and the context of what your study intended to examine. Two to three sentences should be sufficient. The audience is already familiar with scoliosis and conservative care so there is no need to provide very general information. In most cases, too long an introduction section means that less space remains for the methods and the results. This is unfortunate because the reader is interested in the paper because of its findings, and not because of its background.

After the introduction section a clear statement of the study objectives is needed. For example a study on the effect of the treatment should state that the goal of the study was to test the effect of the experimental treatment compared to treatment () on variable () over duration () in patients with (). This general formulation can be adopted in many context by replacing the content of the parenthesis by your own relevant information. 

The materials and methods section is important. Stating the study design and the level of evidence should be short and one sentence may suffice or some will simply state the design and level of evidence besides this header without forming a complete sentence. This is ok. Here also specify how the sample was created, the main selection criteria of the patients and the sample size. If more than one group of patients were analysed it would be best to report the samples size for each groups rather than overall. Characteristics reported here may help judge where the abstract should be presented in the program and can help the reader decide if the results were likely given the sample assembled. Specify how subjects were recruited and in which settings. For example a convenience sample in a community clinic may be very different than consecutive or random sampling in a multidisciplinary academic center. With scoliosis, severity at baseline, age, skeletal maturity, with or without brace are all known to affect results and should be specified. 

Case studies are often submitted because of the focus on a unique type of patients. When this is the case then the unique aspect of the patients selected should be emphasized in the abstract. Whenever possible it may be more convincing to assemble a case series than report a single case. It helps demonstrate that the effects reported may not limited to a cherry picked case and that there may be potential to generalize the findings to others. Alternatively, justifying that the case reported is a unique example and not picked only as a rare good outcome is of interest. 

The method section should also list the measurements obtained and when they were obtained. If a novel measurement is used it should be described otherwise naming may be sufficient. Clinical studies should specify how drop outs and missing measurements were handled and those numbers should be reported. The effect of an intervention will be more believable if it is reported for a large targeted group with few drop outs and few missing values.

When the measurements were obtained should also be reported clearly. If some specific scoring methods have been used or a subset from a larger questionnaire have been used it should be reported. When relevant, it may be possible to comment on who the evaluators were and their qualifications. An important weakness of research on conservative interventions has been the lack of blinding of evaluators to whether patients received the experimental intervention. Please always specify if evaluators were blinded to group allocation. Case studies may be a bit unique in terms of when measurements were obtained and this may be specified if this is a unique aspect of the case study. 

Another important component from the methods should be the description of the interventions tested. If there are more than one intervention, explain how patients were allocated to each one. Description of exercise programs should include program duration (or range for different subjects), number of supervised sessions provided, duration of sessions and a short summary of the nature of the activities during sessions. Space permitting, it is of interest to specify how the intervention was progressed over time. The home program, if used, should also be described. Specifying the qualification of therapists is also relevant when possible. Here the reader should get a good idea of the intervention that was delivered and of its intensity with enough details to compare to other publications or their own practice. For brace interventions, specify the brace prescribed, and possibly the fabrication strategy, the indications, the wear instructions, and how revisions were made or the targeted in-brace corrections. Criteria for brace discharge or the duration of therapy should be specified. 

Often, case studies are submitted to describe unique interventions. In such cases, it is appropriate to use more space in the abstract to describe the novel aspect introduced that justified your submitting such cases for presentation. Reviewing abstracts on case studies where the intent was to describe the effect of a novel treatment I have been frustrated by the lack of intervention description. Nevertheless, with case studies, space should be protected for summarizing results. 

Finally, the methods section should summarize (or simply name) the statistical analysis used to address the objectives listed at the end of the Introduction. The results is a very important section. It should not be too short because too much space was used for the background methods or conclusion. SOSORT-IRSSD 2016 abstracts will be published in Scoliosis. More people will only read the abstract once published compared to the numbers who will attend the presentation. It is therefore important that the results be summarized with sufficient details in the abstract.

It is useful to present a description of the samples tested. With scoliosis reporting age and curve severity may help the reader appraise the risk of progression that the groups studied had at baseline. Then results should be focused on the objectives stated in the abstract. Results reporting should ensure that the reader will be able to judge both the clinical and the statistical significance of the findings. This means that the mean changes of the effect of the interventions should be reported with numbers with a variability estimate (a standard deviation, a range or a confidence interval). It is not enough to only suggest that the differences were significant or to report only a p-value. Authors of abstract do not need to report high numbers of significant digits. Rounding down to the simplest meaningful values is encouraged to improve readability. In many scoliosis intervention studies it is also in this section where compliance and dropout rates should be reported. Sometimes the numbers of measurements is too high to allow reporting each outcome separately. However, many outcomes often respond similarly to an intervention and authors are encouraged to group outcomes reporting to simplify the reporting of results. 

In case studies, similarly, emphasis should be made on the results which illustrate why a given case was thought to be of interest to the community. Thinking about why you selected the case will assist in focusing the results reporting. Sometimes it may be simpler to report mean changes over an interval rather than means at baseline and at various follow-ups. 

Your abstract conclusions should summarize in a sentence or two the meaning of the results in terms of the hypotheses tested. Conclusions should be directly related to the study objectives stated initially. 

The conclusion section is also a place to explain the clinical significance and implications of the findings and what recommendations can be made. Caution should be exercised however. Too often recommendation and significance statements are overreaching and are not directly supported by the results reported. The conclusion, although it is short, often has the most impact on readers because many readers generally trust authors and take their assertions at face value. Ask yourself after you write your conclusion: “Is my statement supported by the data I have summarized?”. If not maybe you need to rephrase and suggest what the next investigation should test in order to arrive at the recommendation you wish to make. 

We look forward to hearing about the latest development in our field. Now is time to prepare your abstracts. To prepare an abstract that you will be proud of, I encourage you to seek input. Begin early and have clinical and research colleagues provide comments. Most will be happy to provide input and guidance but often those you will seek guidance from will also be busy preparing their own abstracts. 

Look up the list of members on the SOSORT web site. Many members will be pleased to be solicited as mentors or to provide feedback prior to your submission. Looking forward to meeting you in Banff this May 2016.