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.
- Internal medicine
- Patient education