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Surprise, Surprise: Patients Have Trouble Understanding Drug Websites

Nearly half of Americans don’t understand the information on drug websites that are created specifically for the public. The FDA news bulletin summarizes:

Understanding content on the average drug website requires 12 years of education, meaning that only 55 percent of the U.S. population can fully understand the information provided on these sites, the analysis by healthcare marketing firm Campbell-Ewald Health found. More than three-quarters of the websites do not offer information in Spanish, and only half were designed using standard guidelines to improve the usability and accessibility of websites, the study showed.

There’s a “plain language” movement in the government, which seeks to make written material easy to read, understand and use. These drug sites aren’t prepared by government employees (at least I hope not!), but the concept should be the same. What’s the point in providing information to the public that they can’t understand?

My job when I worked for a government agency was to edit material so that it was not presented in a standoffish and unnecessarily complicated manner. It was nearly impossible.

My theory is that people use overly complex language and sentence construction so they appear smarter. If I say “utilize” instead of “use” or “at this juncture in time” instead of “at this time,” do I seem more intelligent? No, I seem obtuse and unfriendly (not to mention that I’m misusing the words).

Pet peeves aside, drug companies should have this same goal. They are trying to sell drugs to the public; they should reach out to their potential customers. Unless, of course, they don’t want patients to be able to understand side effects or clinical trial results.

I wonder how many patients are put off by the website and take the drug anyway.

Thanks to my dear friend L for sharing this article with me.

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