Insights on the use of audio-visual content by surgeons

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David Armstrong

Options for disseminating research content have proliferated over the past decade, writes David Armstrong

Producing content is no longer limited to those with access to expensive hardware and software – with a little practice, any smartphone owner can easily record, edit, and upload both video and audio content in web-ready formats. This growing availability of content, combined with faster internet speeds, has also led to a change in how people consume research and practice-altering information.

A leading US-based nonprofit organisation, publishers of the leading journal in its field, recently commissioned TBI Communications to undertake a program of market research to understand how, when, and where its primary markets of academic and practicing surgeons were making use of non-article content, and the ramifications for ‘traditional’ research publishing. Our methodology included a mix of a quantitative survey and qualitative interviews with healthcare professionals and academic researchers. Participants were mostly based in the USA and UK, with a mean age of 46 and an average of 12 years spent in practice.

We found that video content was used by at least half of the respondents across all key age groups (26 to 65), typically for brief periods throughout the work day. Our research showed that surgeons typically consume video content in short bursts to review a technique ahead of surgery, or to inform patients about the treatment they’ll be receiving. Respondents showed a preference for peer reviewed content, but also appreciated the chance to review videos from multiple creators around a subject to help synthesise best practices – and as practicing surgeons are under significant time pressure, they have a strong preference for content that focuses on tips and tricks or actual techniques rather than including introductory materials such as preamble or preparing an incision site.

The research also examined respondents’ use of audio-based content such as podcasts. These appear to be growing in popularity, with many respondents indicating that they use them much more frequently than a few years ago. They’re most often used during a commute or other downtime such as working out, where reading the text of an article or viewing a video is less practical. While there are many different formats for podcasts and other content that are being explored by publishers and individual creators, our research participants appeared to prefer interviews, panel discussions, or – in the case of journal-specific content – digests of recent research highlights to help them quickly stay up to date in their subspecialty, as they might not have the time to sit down and read the latest papers individually. This latter option also presents the opportunity for publishers to curate content that benefits from the strength of their existing brands and the quality assurance offered by editorial oversight.

In general, there is strong agreement that audio-visual content should be something that adds significant value to any associated research – having an author or presenter simply read out a paper or present their key findings isn't seen as especially valuable to this audience; surgical techniques, tips & tricks, or discussion of the research problem and the implications of research findings are more likely to resonate with practicing surgeons. We also heard from respondents with an education component to their role that there is strong demand from learners for audio-visual content – this is a move that was already underway prior to the pandemic, but was accelerated by the move to online teaching necessitated by worldwide lockdowns. Learners appear to prefer content that can be easily referred to multiple times, and which can fit around their schedules rather than attending ‘live’ lectures. One lecturer mentioned that they expected learners would be more likely to watch a video or listen to a podcast multiple times than they would be to read a research paper more than once.

Another valuable piece of feedback was the importance of respondents’ time and the preference by some professionals for consuming video and audio content at faster-than-realtime speeds, as well as the use of chapter markers and timestamps to help them skip to the most relevant section(s) of content. This allows for a better fit with users’ busy schedules – for example, consuming an hour-long presentation in as little as 30 minutes, or bypassing opening remarks and focusing on the most relevant content without having to manually scan through a recording. 

In general, we saw that the importance of audio and visual content in surgeons’ workflows is growing, and will be a core part of their workflows in the future. Publishers will need to look to harnessing the strengths of each medium, and consider how best to compliment the research they are publishing with other content formats, in order to maximise discovery and ensure their continuing relevance.

• David Armstrong is senior manager for market intelligence and insight at TBI Communications