"We know from past research that people are strongly influenced by what they read online, and they believe that what they read on the internet will help them make better health care decisions," said senior author Tara Kent, MD, a pancreatic surgeon at BIDMC and Assistant Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. "Dealing with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is difficult enough without asking patients to negotiate PhD-level terms. The concern here is that available web information may, in fact, be adding to existing barriers to care. If patients don't understand what they're reading, how can they make the best decisions about treatment options?"
The degree to which patients are empowered by written educational materials depends on the text's readability level and the accuracy of the information provided. A patient's health literacy or ability to comprehend written health information can impact clinical outcomes. Reading materials are rarely written at the sixth to seventh-grade reading level recommended by literacy specialists and multiple national institutions.