Readability of online patient resources for melanoma

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Abstract

Medical information is often difficult for patients to understand. With specialized vocabulary and complex pathophysiology, even well-educated adults have trouble interpreting information about their healthcare. The average American adult reads at a seventh-grade level. In light of the inherent complexity of health information, the American Medical Association and National Institutes of Health have recommended that information for patients should be written at a sixth-grade level. The goal of this study was to evaluate the most commonly used online patient resources about melanoma in the context of these recommendations. A web search for ‘melanoma’ identified the 10 most-accessed websites. Location filters were disabled and sponsored results were excluded to avoid inadvertent search bias. All relevant, patient-directed articles were downloaded and formatted into plain text. Pictures, videos, links, advertisements, and references were removed. Readability analysis was carried out using 10 established tests, both overall and arranged by parent website for comparison. A total of 130 articles for melanoma information were identified. The overall mean reading grade level was 12.6. All sites exceeded the recommended sixth-grade level. Secondary analysis of articles grouped by website indicated a range of readability across sites from 9.9 (high school freshman) to 14.9 (university sophomore). Online patient resources for melanoma uniformly exceed the recommended reading level and may be too difficult for many Americans to understand. The range of readability among websites may indicate an opportunity for physicians to direct patients to more appropriate resources for their level of health literacy.

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