Online information about the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or an enlarged prostate, is difficult for most patients to understand, according to a study in the American Journal of Men’s Health.
Information on the websites of academic institutions is even harder to comprehend, the study says.
“Efforts to improve literacy with respect to urological health should target content readability independent of reliability,” wrote the authors of “How Readable Is BPH Treatment Information on the Internet? Assessing Barriers to Literacy in Prostate Health.”
To evaluate the readability of internet information about BPH, Dr. Kevin Koo of Dartmouth–Hitchcock Medical Center and Dr. Ronald Yap of Concord Hospital, both in New Hampshire, used BPH-related key words to do searches on Google, Bing, and Yahoo! every day for a month.
They then performed three readability analyses. The first readability tool they used, the SMOG grade, estimates the years of education a person needs to understand a piece of text. The second, the Dale-Chall readability formula, assigns a number to comprehension difficulty. The third, the Fry readability graph, uses the average number of sentences and syllables per hundred words to measure readability.
The researchers’ 270 searches covered 52 websites. They chose sites on the basis of site ownership data and Health on the Net certification status.
Only 13%, or seven, websites in the SMOG analysis were at or below the average adult’s reading level. Not even one website was understandable to a below-average reader.
The readability of academic websites was far worse than that of commercial websites, according to the analyses. Similarly, the readability of Health on the Net-certified websites was significantly lower than that of non-certified websites.
Although it gets easier all the time to access BPH information on the internet, its low readability may be having a negative impact on patient decision-making, the study suggests.
“As BPH is one of the most prevalent and treatable urological conditions, clinicians, as well as providers of Internet-based content, should account for readability in addition to reliability of online health information to facilitate greater patient comprehension and informed decision-making,” the authors concluded.