8 Ways to Improve Readability in Healthcare

The role of readability in the healthcare industry should not be underestimated. Failure to focus on readability in healthcare can lead to potentially fatal errors due to improper use of medical equipment or medication administration. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to make readability a priority in the healthcare industry. 

Who Should Focus on Readability in the Healthcare Industry?

There are three basic categories of people in the healthcare industry who should focus on readability: doctors, educators, and product manufacturers. These groups of individuals are tasked with ensuring that patients and their care providers have a crystal clear understanding of treatments and the medical equipment used in medical facilities. Below are some specific healthcare employees who should focus on readability:

  • Doctors and pharmacists who prescribe or administer medications to patients
  • Marketing managers who are responsible for reviewing and approving healthcare-related content
  • Training managers of healthcare workers who use complicated medical equipment
  • Pharmaceutical company employees who prepare written summaries of medications
  • Medical equipment manufacturers who prepare training literature and user manuals

What are the Benefits of Improving Readability in the Healthcare Industry?

Promoting readability in healthcare produces a number of desirable outcomes ranging from enhanced patient awareness to a reduction in preventable medical errors. Below are some of the key benefits of improving the readability of written healthcare materials.

1) Biomedical technicians can install and maintain equipment more efficiently and accurately. Installation and setup of complex medical equipment such as anesthesia systems, C-arms, and ventilators are vital to patient care and equipment longevity. Boosting the readability of instructional guides and service manuals can help ensure that equipment is properly installed and receives the recommended preventive maintenance.

2) Incorrect medical diagnoses can be prevented. When diagnostic staff are not able to understand user instructions for medical equipment, they are more likely to misdiagnose patient conditions. Improving the readability of user manuals for medical equipment can help prevent this pitfall.

3) Training for surgical teams is improved. Technological advances in the medical equipment industry have revolutionized healthcare delivery across the globe. However, insufficient training on electronic medical equipment and robotics is associated with preventable medical errors.  

4) Pharmacists are less likely to give patients the incorrect medication. Doctors who provide pharmacies with complicated medication instructions increase the odds that patients receive the wrong medications. Clearer written instructions from doctors help to reduce this risk.

5) Patients develop a better understanding of medication risks and side effects. A poor understanding of medications and side effects is one of the key reasons that patients fail to take their medications as prescribed. Improving readability of prescription information helps to address this issue.

What Steps Can Be Taken to Improve Readability in Healthcare?

The benefits outlined above can be attained by following some key recommendations. Written instructions and guidelines targeting patients and hospital staff should be prepared with clarity and conciseness in mind. Additionally, readability formulas offer an excellent means of simplifying complex healthcare information. Below are eight specific ways to improve the readability of written healthcare materials.

1) Write at a fifth or sixth-grade level to optimize understanding. Many patient healthcare materials have a readability level that is too advanced for many patients to comprehend. Writing at a fifth or sixth-grade level helps to ensure that more patients understand key instructions.

2) Consider using a readability formula to improve written health content and simplify material. Readability formulas are instrumental in helping promote patient education and awareness. Below are three formulas that are particularly useful for healthcare applications:

  • The SMOG Readability Formula 
  • The Flesch Reading Ease Formula
  • The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Formula

3) Use short words and sentences. Choosing short words and sentences that are no longer than 8-11 words long will help patients, caregivers, and biomedical technicians absorb important information more easily. Bullet points are also helpful when highlighting key points to patients and healthcare workers.

4) Avoid the use of complicated language whenever possible. This may prove to be difficult, especially when preparing written materials for sophisticated and complex medical equipment. If you must include complicated language, try to include an associated explanation or example to help clarify the information provided.

5) Use headings or steps to help guide healthcare professionals in the learning process. Purchasing or installing medical equipment can be an intimidating process for healthcare providers across the globe. Manufacturers can simplify the process by providing a step by step guide specifically designed for their target markets.

6) Include images and videos to help clarify written content. Some healthcare workers and patients are able to absorb written information better if visual content is also provided. Supplementing written content with photos and videos can be particularly helpful, especially for healthcare technicians entrusted with the responsibility of installing and servicing complex medical equipment.

7) Stress the benefits of following instructions. MedlinePlus, the National Institute of Health's website for patients, suggests that healthcare-related content emphasize the benefits of taking action. MedlinePlus cites the following example: "Proper use of asthma inhalers helps you breathe better."

8) Enlist the support of a trusted readability specialist. The best way to make sure that healthcare information is clearly written is to seek the guidance of a professional readability expert. A readability specialist will have the tools and resources required to help you improve the quality of your written healthcare content.

Final Considerations

Preparing written healthcare information that is easy to understand is a task that should be a top priority for doctors, manufacturers, and marketing specialists. By taking the steps to improve the readability of healthcare materials, healthcare delivery errors are minimized and patient care outcomes are optimized. 

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Dave Child

Dave is the founder of Readable.io, and has been building websites since the early 90s. He's one of those fortunate people who gets to do what he loves for a living.



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