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Background: Health literacy is an important factor that affects comprehension of health information and subsequent health outcomes. Current recommendations suggest that health information should be written at a 4th to 6th grade reading level. There is limited research on the readability of health information, especially when considering information that focuses on medications specifically.

Methods: This study focused on common websites and patient handouts for the top six cardiovascular medications and assessed the readability of these information sources to determine the extent to which they meet current health literacy recommendations. Websites and patient handouts included both free and subscription-based services. General and readability statistics were collected using a readability calculator on for over 70 web pages and patient handouts within 10 websites and subscription-based services. Each individual statistic was averaged to determine overall scores for each website and subscription-based service. The statistics assessed included 10 readability scales, 10 general statistics, and an overall grade level standard. Additionally, an average JAMA benchmark score was calculated for each website and subscription-based service.

Results: Websites and subscription-based services were written at grade levels ranging from 6th grade to that of a professional (higher than a college graduate). No website or subscription-based service was written at a level lower than 6th grade. Of the websites and subscription-based services assessed, only 1 subscription-based service met health literacy recommendations in 6 of 10 readability scales. One website scored a 4 out of 4 when applying the JAMA benchmark. Individual general statistics did not seem to correlate with the grade levels assigned by each readability scale. However, general statistics considered in aggregate have a correlation due to many of the readability scales accounting for multiple statistical factors within a text.

Conclusion: Current medication information sources are not generally written at a grade level compliant with health literacy recommendations. Most sources do not meet the requirements of the JAMA benchmark. The appropriateness of medication information should be assessed prior to providing it to patients or the public and efforts should be made to ensure that such materials meet health literacy recommendations.

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