Readability and Medical Writing



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Readability and Patient Education

Readability is a term used to explain how accessible, or comprehensible, a piece of writing is to an audience.  Is your text readable?

Creating a clear text at certain readability levels is essential to success. Patient education specialists and medical writers at WordsWork are readability experts and create patient materials at appropriate readability levels 

The Need for Readability at the Patient Level

Readability is more than just a phrase for health care professionals involved in patient education and communication. The FDA issued a guideline a few years ago strongly suggesting that all pharmaceutical information be delivered to patients in clear, readable language.

Specifically, Dr. Michael Friedman, the then Deputy Commissioner for Operations of the FDA, said: 

We recently proposed new labeling of over-the-counter drugs on which Americans depend for the vast majority of their day-to-day health care needs. This proposed labeling will provide consumers with easier to read and understand information about the products' benefits and risks, and how they should be used. The proposed rule results from several years of Agency work with consumers and industry groups and is our latest effort to give consumers accurate reliable information about the products that affect their health.

This "easier to read" language involves more than type font. As Dixie Farley makes clear in her article in the May-June 1997 FDA Consumer, this easier to read language involves changing from medical terminology to a lay vocabulary. And, it is with this change, that readability becomes an issue.

Working With Readability and Demographic and Educational Changes

As the demographics in the US continue to shift, and as education continues to struggle with reform, we are faced with a 1992 study estimate that says nearly 50% of the adult population in the US cannot read well enough to find a single piece of information in a short text. Nor are they able to make low level inferences based on what they read. Even more startling is that close to three-quarters of the adults
over age 60 find it hard to understand information presented in newspapers and simple instructions. 

What does this mean to you? 

If you are a health care professional, or if you publish consumer health or patient education materials, you need to create writing that will be understood by your audience. Translating medical research, pharmaceutical information, and patient education materials requires an ability to understand the complex and make it clear

Readability at WordsWork

Readability is a focal point for the medical writers and editors at WordsWork who have extensive experience in readability issues. We have worked with several leading publishers in writing new and editing current medical material to make information more readable, more accessible, more understandable to the patient and consumer. Writers and editors at WordsWork use current reading research, readability guidelines, and an understanding of audience analysis to translate the medical into the helpful. We have worked with PPIs and PIs.

Do you know how readable your writing and publications are? Drop us a line. Our medical writers and editors can let you know. We can offer suggestions to make medical writing more accessible to your audience. We can even help you with the FDA guidelines.