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Intern Emerg Med. 2017 Jun;12(4):535-543. doi: 10.1007/s11739-017-1611-2. Epub 2017 Jan 30.

Evaluation of internet-based patient education materials from internal medicine subspecialty organizations: will patients understand them?

Author information

1
Department of Radiology, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, 132 South 10th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107, USA. hansbedr@gmail.com.
2
Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
3
Department of Medicine, University of Central Florida College of Medicine, Orlando, FL, USA.
4
Department of Medicine, New Jersey Medical School, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Newark, NJ, USA.
5
Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
6
Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
7
Department of Radiology, New Jersey Medical School, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Newark, NJ, USA.

Abstract

The majority of Americans use the Internet daily, if not more often, and many search online for health information to better understand a diagnosis they have been given or to research treatment options. The average American reads at an eighth-grade level. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the readability of online patient education materials on the websites of 14 professional organizations representing the major internal medicine subspecialties. We used ten well-established quantitative readability scales to assess written text from patient education materials published on the websites of the major professional organizations representing the following subspecialty groups: allergy and immunology, cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, geriatrics, hematology, hospice and palliative care, infectious disease, nephrology, oncology, pulmonology and critical care, rheumatology, sleep medicine, and sports medicine. Collectively the 540 articles analyzed were written at an 11th-grade level (SD 1.4 grade levels). The sleep medicine and nephrology websites had the most readable materials, written at an academic grade level of 8.5 ± 1.5 and 9.0 ± 0.2, respectively. Material at the infectious disease site was written at the most difficult level, with average readability corresponding to grades 13.9 ± 0.3. None of the patient education materials we reviewed conformed to the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines requiring that patient education articles be written at a third- to seventh-grade reading level. If these online resources were rewritten, it is likely that more patients would derive benefit from reading them.

KEYWORDS:

Internal medicine; Internet; Literacy; Patient education; Readability

PMID:
28138915
DOI:
10.1007/s11739-017-1611-2
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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