Hospital mammography departments have work to do on the communications front

Many patients who look to their local hospital’s website for educational information on screening mammography come away flummoxed by what they find, according to a study published online Sept. 9 in the American Journal of Roentgenology.

The researchers found that most such material is written at levels well above the reading-comprehension level of most Americans—and not much of it even tries to help patients make sense of conflicting guidelines.

Gelareh Sadigh, MD, of Emory University and colleagues identified online mammography patient info offered by all Medicare-recognized hospitals for which screening mammography metrics were publicly available in 2015.  

The team assessed the materials using readability-score algorithms and captured references to official screening guidelines.

They found that a superficially encouraging 3,252 of 4,105 hospitals had consumer websites as well as confirmable screening mammography services. Moreover, of these, more than half (1,753) offered mammography info online.

That’s where the good news ended, as only 919 hospitals (28 percent) mentioned any professional society guidelines.

Worse yet, only 14 hospitals (0.4 percent) had mean readability scores at or below the 7th grade level, as recommended by both the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health.

Nationally, the mean of each readability score for all hospitals varied between the 10th and 14th grade levels.

“Although approximately one-half of hospitals that offer mammography services and have websites provide at least some mammographic patient educational information online, most of this material is written at levels markedly above the reading comprehension level of most Americans,” the authors write in their discussion. “At a time when many professional society guidelines are changing and conflict with one another, only approximately one-fourth mention any guidelines to help engage patients in making their own informed screening decisions.”

“Health systems offering mammography,” they add, “should strive to better meet women’s health information and literacy needs.”

Earlier this year, researchers looking at the comprehensibility of breast-density notifications came to a similar conclusion.

Sadigh et al. acknowledge several limitations inherent in their study, including their exclusion of materials with fewer than 100 words and the inability of readability indexes to gauge the accessibility of videos and other educational aids.