Healthcare News & Insights

Study: Cancer information too confusing for the average patient

Many healthcare providers are using their websites and social media pages to attract potential patients by offering information about health conditions and treatments. The problem: Much of that information is unintelligible to the average person. 

For healthcare organizations, it’s easy to forget that not everyone understands complex medical jargon, and that often leads to health-related websites that are difficult for the average person to understand. Sites often look like they’re geared more toward medical students than the average patient who needs the information.

Healthcare websites should aim to be much easier to understand than most currently are, according to researchers at the Oncology Institute of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, who point out that nearly one-third of people in the U.S. read below a high school level.

However most websites offering health information are likely difficult for those people to understand, according to a study published in the Journal of Urology.

Loyola researchers looked at a sample of 62 websites that described options for prostate cancer treatments. The sites were found using major search engines, and word processing software was used to measure how they scored on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test.

Based on that scale, just 4.8% of the sites studies were written below a high school reading level. The median was 12th grade, and none of the sites were written at a fourth-sixth grade level, which is what the National Institutes of Health recommends for health information.

Healthcare websites need improvement

These findings concur with similar studies conducted earlier. For example, one study of websites designed for diabetes patients found that the majority had no impact on patient care because they were difficult for most people to understand. Any a study of general healthcare websites found that many of them needed improvement in terms of their content, as well as accessibility and technical issues.

Healthcare organizations’ websites can be a valuable tool for both attracting patients and improving care by keeping people educated and informed. But researchers recommend organizations take a close look at the content of their sites to make sure the information makes sense to those outside the medical profession.

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