Patient education materials are written for grade levels higher than the average American can read, a study found, and may require medical specialty societies to reconsider how they draft and present such handouts.
The average American adult reads at approximately a seventh to eighth grade level, prompting government and medical societies to call for patient education materials to be written at a fourth to sixth grade reading level
Researchers downloaded the body text of online patient education materials from 16 medical specialties into Microsoft Word and performed readability statistics on them. ACP materials were included in the analysis.
Results appeared online May 20 at JAMA Internal Medicine.
After using the many tools available in Word to analyze the readability of text, patient education materials from all 16 medical specialties were too complex for a sixth grade reading level. Among the specialties near the recommended grade level when measured by New Fog Count were: dermatology, 4.3; obstetrics and gynecology, 6.0; plastic surgery, 6.1; and family medicine, 6.6.
New Dale-Chall readability formula test showed that dermatology, family medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology met the average American adult reading level. Flesch Reading Ease readability analysis showed that patient resources were considered to be "difficult." The Flesch-Kincaid grade level readability test showed that family medicine was the only specialty satisfying the average adult reading ability. Fry graphical analysis test results ranged from the eighth grade level in family medicine to unclassifiable in dermatology because materials were beyond the 17th grade level.
Researchers wrote, "One simple adjustment is to write more clearly, which may increase comprehension regardless of the reader's health literacy capabilities. The use of pictures and videos may also be an effective way of increasing a patient's comprehension of health information that is too complex to fully explain through pure text."