Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, USA
Because the quality of information on the Internet is of dubious worth, many patients seek out reliable expert sources. As per the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommendations, readability of patient education materials should not exceed a sixth-grade reading level. The average reading skill of U.S. adults is at the eighth-grade level.
This study evaluates whether a recognized source of expert content, the American Association for Surgery of Trauma (AAST) website’s patient education materials, recommended readability guidelines for medical information.
Materials and Methods
Using the well-validated Flesch-Kincaid formula to analyze grade level readability, we evaluated the readability of all 16 of the publicly-accessible entries within the patient education section of the AAST website.
Mean ± SD grade level readability was 10.9 ± 1.8 for all the articles. All but one of the articles had a readability score above the sixth-grade level. Readability of the articles exceeded the maximum recommended level by an average of 4.9 grade levels (95% confidence interval, 4.0-5.8; P < 0.0001). Readability of the articles exceeded the eighth-grade level by an average of 2.9 grade levels (95% confidence interval, 2.0-3.8; P < 0.0001). Only one of the articles had a readability score below the eighth-grade level.
The AAST’s online patient education materials may be of limited utility to many patients, as the readability of the information exceeds the average reading skill level of adults in the U.S. Lack of patient comprehension represents a discrepancy that is not in accordance with the goals of the AAST’s objectives for its patient education efforts.