Content on health websites often too complex for patients

If you feel like you're lost in a sea of jargon when navigating healthcare-related websites, you're not alone. A new research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine assesses readability of patient education resources found online, determining that such materials often are too complex for their intended audience.

For the research, resources from 16 medical specialties were examined with software called Readability Studio, where readability was assessed using different formulas and indexes. All assessments showed that materials were too complex for the sixth-grade reading level; the average American adult reads at approximately a seventh- to eighth-grade level, according to the authors.

"Patients will often come to the office, and one of the first things they say to you, especially about technical information, they'll say that they've been on the Internet, and they'll quote one or two key phrases back to you," study author Charles Prestigiacomo, M.D., told the Chicago Tribune. "Unfortunately, the little soundbites, while accurate, may not be complete."

The Tribune reported that for quality of writing, obstetrics and gynecology materials were especially full of clichés and grammar mistakes--specifically, indefinite article mismatches. Passive voice proportions ranged from 4 percent in family medicine to 27 percent in neurological surgery.

Too much jargon is a problem across all specialties in healthcare. For instance, according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak, the National Plan and Provider Enumeration system--which lists all U.S. doctors and their specialties--contains too much jargon to be useful to the layperson.

To learn more:
- read the study abstract
- read the Chicago Tribune article

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