Readability, content, and quality of COVID-19 patient education materials from academic medical centers in the United States

Jessica Kruse, Paloma Toledo, Tayler B. Belton, Erica J. Testani, Charlesnika T. Evans, William A. Grobman, Emily S. Miller, Elizabeth M.S. Lange*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: SARS-CoV-2 has spread rapidly resulted in a global pandemic and public health crisis. The internet is a frequently used resource for providing patient education materials (PEMs). The aim of this study was to evaluate the readability, content, and quality of web-based PEMs on COVID-19 from US academic medical centers. Methods: The names of US medical schools were obtained from the Association of American Medical Colleges website (n = 145). Institutional, hospital, and heath encyclopedia websites associated with each schools’ medical center were identified using Google. Readability of COVID-19 PEMs was calculated using three validated indices: (1) Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level, (2) Simple Measure of Gobbledygook, and (3) Gunning Frequency of Gobbledygook. Content was evaluated using a scoring matrix based on materials available on the Center for Disease Control website. The Patient Education Material Assessment Tool for Print (PEMAT-P) was used to assess usability and actionability. Results: A total of 141 (97%) PEMs met inclusion criteria and were analyzed for readability, content, and quality. The mean readability was above the recommended sixth grade reading level (P <.001). Content was variable across PEMs. The PEMAT-P scores reflected good understandability with a median score of 83% (IQR 75%-87%), while actionability was poor with a median score of 41% (IQR 40%-60%). Conclusions: Despite availability of web-based PEMs for COVID-19, the readability was significantly higher than the National Institute of Health and US Department of Health and Human Services recommended sixth grade reading level and actionability of PEMs was low. It is critical to provide readable PEMs on COVID-19 to effectively disseminate accurate information and facilitate patients’ understanding of the virus, how it spreads, and how to protect themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)690-693
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Journal of Infection Control
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Coronavirus
  • PEMs
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology


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