Readability of online patient education material for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19): a cross-sectional health literacy study

Public Health. 2020 Aug:185:21-25. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2020.05.041. Epub 2020 May 30.


Objectives: The internet has become one of the most important resources for the general population when searching for healthcare information. However, the information available is not always suitable for all readers because of its difficult readability. We sought to assess the readability of online information regarding the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and establish whether they follow the patient educational information reading level recommendations.

Study design: This is a cross-sectional study.

Methods: We searched five key terms on Google and the first 30 results from each of the searches were considered for analysis. Five validated readability tests were utilized to establish the reading level for each article.

Results: Of the 150 gathered articles, 61 met the inclusion criteria and were evaluated. None (0%) of the articles met the recommended 5th to 6th grade reading level (of an 11-12-year-old). The mean readability scores were Flesch Reading Ease 44.14, Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 12.04, Gunning-Fog Index 14.27, Simple Measure of Gobbledygook SMOG Index 10.71, and Coleman-Liau Index 12.69.

Conclusions: Online educational articles on COVID-19 provide information too difficult to read for the general population. The readability of articles regarding COVID-19 and other diseases needs to improve so that the general population may understand health information better and may respond adequately to protect themselves and limit the spread of infection.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; Google; Internet; Readability.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19
  • Comprehension*
  • Consumer Health Information / statistics & numerical data*
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Health Literacy
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*