Healthcare News & Insights

Healthcare sites are difficult for patients to understand, study says

New research says that many hospitals’ websites likely make little sense to the average patient. 

internet-connection-url-2The majority of patients (73%) regularly use online tools and websites to find health-related information, according to a survey from Manhattan Research. That means a website is one of a hospital’s most valuable marketing tools. Many providers use their site to discuss conditions and treatments in order to attract potential patients who are searching online for information.

Ideally, hospitals create websites that offer patients a valuable source for the information they need. That helps the patient make more informed decisions, as well as establishes the provider as a trusted resource and helps the site appear in potential patients’ search engine results.

However, while many hospitals try to accomplish that, they don’t always succeed. One common problem: The information is presented in a way that’s difficult to understand for anyone who’s not a medical professional.

In one recent study, researchers examined 16 different medical websites with a tool that scans documents to rate the reading level they’re appropriate for. And, according to the results published in a recent issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, none of the sites were written at or below a sixth-grade level, which is what the American Medical Association and government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend for educational materials in health care.

How hospitals can help

The sites studied ranged from a ninth-grade level to material suited for sophomores in college, according to the researchers. The findings agree with what another group found last year when studying websites with information for cancer patients.

What can hospitals do to make their websites more helpful for the people searching for information? Here are some common problems uncovered in the recent study:

  • Heavy use of jargon — Sites often use terminology that’s commonplace for doctors and other healthcare employees but means little to everyone else. Researchers recommend using analogies to explain medial terms that may be unclear.
  • Too much text — Many people understand information better when it’s accompanied by pictures or video. Yet many sites use only big blocks of text to relay information.
  • Poor grammar — Healthcare sites also suffered from plenty of basic grammar mistakes, poorly structured sentences and other problems. That’s why it’s important to have someone carefully read over all content before it’s published.

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