Patients likely to be flummoxed by online emergency-radiology resources

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Very few online resources aimed at patients who wish to learn about an emergency radiology exam are comprehensible to most of that intended audience, according to a study published online in Emergency Radiology.

Assessing some 230 patient-aimed articles pertaining to imaging exams for 23 conditions common to emergency medicine—from abdominal aortic aneurysm to chest CT to subdural hematoma—the authors found that only 1 percent (2 of the 230) were written at the third- to seventh-grade recommended reading level called for by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Medical Association (AMA).

Lead author David Hansberry, MD, PhD, of Thomas Jefferson University and colleagues used Google to find the articles, as most patients would surely tend to do, and focused on the top 10 results for each of the 23 conditions.

Evaluating the pages for readability level using a set of 10 reputable readability scales, they found that, on average, the materials were written for individuals reading at a 12.1 grade level.

Moreover, the majority of the articles, 52 percent, required reading comprehension of at least a 12.0 grade level.

And 7.3 percent (17 of the 230) were written at a level beyond that typically attained upon completion of studies to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“The majority of websites with emergency radiology-related patient education materials are not adhering to the NIH and AMA’s recommended reading levels, and it is likely that the average reader is not benefiting fully from these information outlets,” Hansberry et al. conclude. “With the link between health literacy and poor health outcomes, it is important to address the online content in this area of radiology, allowing for patients to more fully benefit from their online searches.”

Last year a Hansberry-led study found similarly disconcerting demands being placed on patients seeking online information about abdominal imaging.