The internet is now the top source of medical information for Americans. Coronavirus is the top healthcare issue searched online. There’s a huge amount of misinformation about COVID-19 online. These facts aren’t news. But the most important solution for the information pandemic — accessible coronavirus information — is facing a critical obstacle: trusted sources are presenting coronavirus information that is too hard to read.
We know that health information consumers will not hang around at a website and struggle to figure out information. Roughly half of what is presented to them on page 1 at Google, studies say, is inaccurate. If they go to a site with accurate information and it’s unappealing or hard to read, they will bounce back to Google and pick something more accessible. Yet a new study conducted at Dartmouth found that the most authoritative and trustworthy sources of information are writing that information on an 11th grade level.
The average reading level among American adults is 8th grade. The AMA recommends that health information online be set at the 6th grade level.
Yet state and federal information, including pages at the Centers for Disease Control website, averaged an 11th grade reading level.
Extensive research has shown that the average American adult has limited health literacy. Yet for years health information from medical sources has averaged an 11th grade reading level. This is true of hospitals and medical practices, as well as government agencies.
What do consumers do when readability is an issue?
The researchers expressed concern that visitors to the websites they checked would miss information. But that’s not actually the worst or even the most likely problem. The typical health consumer, finding that the World Health Organization recommends “good respiratory hygiene,” is just as likely to jump over to Facebook for health advice as to Google the meanings of unfamiliar words.
Google is showing more reliable sources and social media platforms are trying to share fact checks, but your patients will generally just pick something easier to read.
What’s the solution?
Provide reliable, accessible coronavirus information at your website.
If you have a blog (even if you call it by a different name) at your practice website, make sure you have plenty of reliable information written at an 8th grade reading level or lower. The Yoast plugin includes a readability tool that can help you make sure you are providing your readers with information they can understand.
Your patients trust you, and will be able to follow your advice with confidence — as long as they understand it.
If you don’t have a blog, this is a great time to add one to your website. It’s the best and easiest way to increase accessible coronavirus information for your web visitors.