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BACKGROUND: Health literacy is considered the single best predictor of health status. Organizations including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have recommended that the readability of patient education materials not exceed the sixth-grade level. Our study focuses on the readability of self-designated hernia centers websites at both academic and community organizations across the United States to determine their ability to dispense patient information at an appropriate reading level.

METHODS: A search was conducted utilizing the Google search engine. The key words "Hernia Center" and "University Hernia Center" were used to identify links to surgical programs within the United States. The following readability tests were conducted via the program: Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FKGL), Gunning Fox Index (GFI), Coleman-Liau Index (CLI), Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG), and Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) score.

RESULTS: Of 96 websites, zero (0%) had fulfilled the recommended reading level in all four tests. The mean test scores for all non-academic centers (n = 50) were as follows: FKGL (11.14 ± 2.68), GFI (14.39 ± 3.07), CLI (9.29 ± 2.48) and SMOG (13.38 ± 2.03). The mean test scores [SK1] for all academic programs (n = 46) were as follows: FKGL (11.7 ± 2.66), GFI (15.01 ± 2.99), CLI (9.34 ± 1.91) and SMOG (13.71 ± 2.02). A one-sample t test was performed to compare the FKGL, GFI, CLI, and SMOG scores for each hernia center to a value of 6.9 (6.9 or less is considered an acceptable reading level) and a p value of 0.001 for all four tests were noted demonstrating statistical significance. The Academic and Community readability scores for both groups were compared to each other with a two-sample t test with a p value of > 0.05 for all four tests and there were no statistically significant differences.

CONCLUSION: Neither Academic nor Community hernia centers met the appropriate reading level of sixth-grade or less. Steps moving forward to improve patient comprehension and/or involving with their care should include appropriate reading level material, identification of a patient with a low literacy level with intervention or additional counseling when appropriate, and the addition of adjunct learning materials such as videos.

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