Comparative Readability of Shoulder and Elbow Patient Education Materials within Orthopaedic Websites

Beutel, Bryan G.; Danna, Natalie R.; Melamed, Eitan; Capo, John T.
October 2015
Bulletin of the Hospital for Joint Diseases;2015, Vol. 73 Issue 4, p249
Academic Journal
There is growing concern that the readability of online orthopaedic patient education materials are too difficult for the general public to fully understand. It is recommended that this information be at the sixth grade reading level or lower. This study compared the readability of shoulder and elbow education articles from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) websites. Seventy-six patient education articles from the AAOS and ASSH concerning shoulder and elbow disorders were evaluated. Each article was assessed for the number of years since its last update, word count, percentage of passive sentences, Flesch Reading Ease score, Flesch-Kincaid grade level, Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG) grade, and New Dale-Chall grade level. Only one article was at or below the sixth grade reading level. The AAOS and ASSH articles had the following respective scores: a mean Flesch Reading Ease score of 54.3 and 51.8, Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 9.4 and 10.3, SMOG grade of 8.5 and 9.4, and New Dale-Chall grade of 10.4 and 11.0. Articles from the AAOS were longer (p < 0.001), had a lower percentage of passive sentences (p < 0.001), and were more recently updated (p = 0.02) than their ASSH counterparts. Higher percentages of passive sentences were found to correlate with more difficult readability. Patient education materials regarding the shoulder and elbow on the AAOS and ASSH websites have readability scores above the recommended reading level. These may be too challenging for the majority of patients to read and consequently serve as a barrier to proper patient education. Reducing the percentage of passive sentences may serve as a novel target for improving readability.


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