Are you smarter than a fifth grader?
OK, intelligence aside, if you were a non-native English speaker, do you think you would understand the following passage from the American College of Radiology patient education website:
“RadiologyInfo.org tells you how various x-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound, radiation therapy and other procedures are performed. It also addresses what you may experience and how to prepare for the exams. The website contains over 130 radiologic procedures and disease descriptions and is updated frequently with new information. All material on the RadiologyInfo.org website is reviewed and approved by experts in the field of radiology from the ACR and RSNA, as well as other professional radiology organizations.”?
It turns out, fifth grade is the level of understanding patient educators should be shooting for, unfortunately, many are failing.
According to A Comparative Analysis of the Quality of Patient Education Materials From Medical Specialties, published in May 2013 by JAMA Internal Medicine, the majority of patient education materials from specialty medical societies are written at a reading level that is too high. According to researchers, most U.S. adults read at about a seventh or eighth grade reading level. As such, the National Institute of Health recommends patient education materials should be written at a fifth grade reading level for improved population understanding.
Researchers from the New Jersey Medical School used software programmed for 10 different readability scales to analyze patient education materials from 16 major medical societies (in specialty categories like dermatology, obstetrics & gynecology, plastic surgery, family practice, radiology, etc.) and found all were written at a higher reading level.
According to the study organizers, “None of the patient education resources provided by the 16 professional organizations met the recommended sixth grade maximum readability level or even the seventh to eighth grade reading ability of the typical American adult.”
With 59% of Americans using the internet to find healthcare information (according to the 2011 Pew Internet and American Life Project) this is a problem. The article claims the US economy spends between 106 billion and 236 billion dollars annually as a result of inadequate health literacy and according to the US Department of Education, 14% of the American population has a “below basic health literacy” rate.
If native speakers have trouble reading and understanding online patient education materials, imagine the amount of understanding in people learning English as a second language…