Supplemental educational reading material is of no value to patients if it is not read and comprehended. Objective: Using standardized research tools, online patient education materials were comparatively assessed for readability and length in words to identify the strengths and weaknesses of widely utilized sources.
Three sources of patient-education material on the internet (WebMD.com, Wikipedia.org, and MedicineOnline.com) were compared with materials produced by the American Academy of Dermatology for readability utilizing Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Flesch Reading Ease Scale. Automated word counts were used to determine the length of each educational piece.
The information presented in American Academy of Dermatology electronic pamphlets on the internet is significantly harder to comprehend than MedicineOnline.com, but easier than Wikipedia.org. The latter site proved significantly harder to comprehend than all other sources. The American Academy of Dermatology electronic pamphlets and MedicineOnline.com materials were the most concise, averaging 1,200 words or less, although this was not a statistically significant difference in length compared to other online patient-education resources. No single source of online patient-education material demonstrates optimal features with regard to each of these parameters.
Only 15 topic areas in the four most commonly accessed sources of patient information were analyzed in this study.
No single source of commonly used internet patient-education material demonstrates optimal features with regard to readability, length, and presence of photographic illustrations. These educational materials should target a length of 1,200 words, be illustrated with clinical images, and readability should correspond with the national average reading level.
Tulbert BH, Snyder CW, Brodell RT. Readability of Patient-oriented Online Dermatology Resources. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011 Mar;4(3):27-33.