Internet resources on mammo too difficult for average adult to read

Online mammography education materials are often written well above the average American’s reading level, according to a new study published Dec. 5 online in Academic Radiology.

The average American adult reads at a seventh-to-eighth grade level, wrote Rend Al-Khalili, MD, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and colleagues.

Thanks to easy online access to health education materials, more than 113 million Americans take to the Internet annual to research healthcare-related information to assist with decision making.

“Health care professionals must keep the poor rates of health literacy—the ‘degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand the basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions’—in the United States in mind when authoring [online educational material],” Al-Khalili and team wrote.

The study assessed the readability of online educational materials from U.S. universities, hospitals, health organizations and clinical practices related to mammography.

The researchers gathered 300 websites from the aforementioned sources and created a database that analyzed text based on four readability calculations:

  • Flesch Reading Ease Score
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Formula
  • Simple Measure of Gobbledygook
  • Gunning Frequency of Gobbledygook

Of the 300 gathered websites, 42 sites pertaining to mammography met the inclusion criteria and were analyzed.

The research team found that none of the sites analyzed had readability scores that were “fairly easy” or easier, which is the recommended sixth-grade reading level established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Additionally, 81 percent of the studied Web sites were classified as “fairly difficult” to read or harder and 76.2 percent of the Web sites were classified as having a reading level of 10th grade or higher.

With more than half of the analyzed material being written well above the college material, the authors assert that materials need to be well within the average American adult’s reading level to aid patient comprehension.

Looking forward, Al-Khalili and team urged providers to review educational materials with patients.

“The easy access to [online educational materials] has now shifted the patient–physician relationship into a ‘patient–web–physician’ triangle,” the authors wrote. “Patients may be able to understand written materials published on the Internet better if physicians review [them] with their patients.”