Readability Assessment of Patient Information about Lymphedema and Its Treatment

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Abstract

Background:

Patient use of online resources for health information is increasing, and access to appropriately written information has been associated with improved patient satisfaction and overall outcomes. The American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health recommend that patient materials be written at a sixth-grade reading level. In this study, the authors simulated a patient search of online educational content for lymphedema and evaluated readability.

Methods:

An online search for the term “lymphedema” was performed, and the first 12 hits were identified. User and location filters were disabled and sponsored results were excluded. Patient information from each site was downloaded and formatted into plain text. Readability was assessed using established tests: Coleman-Liau, Flesch-Kincaid, Flesch Reading Ease Index, FORCAST Readability Formula, Fry Graph, Gunning Fog Index, New Dale-Chall Formula, New Fog Count, Raygor Readability Estimate, and Simple Measure of Gobbledygook Readability Formula.

Results:

There were 152 patient articles downloaded; the overall mean reading level was 12.6. Individual website reading levels ranged from 9.4 (cancer.org) to 16.7 (wikipedia.org). There were 36 articles dedicated to conservative treatments for lymphedema; surgical treatment was mentioned in nine articles across four sites. The average reading level for conservative management was 12.7, compared with 15.6 for surgery (p < 0.001).

Conclusions:

Patient information found through an Internet search for lymphedema is too difficult for many American adults to read. Websites queried had a range of readability, and surgeons should direct patients to sites appropriate for their level. There is limited information about surgical treatment available on the most popular sites; this information is significantly harder to read than sections on conservative measures.

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