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Study Finds Improved Readability Needed in Veterinary Information for Public

A study from the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine finds many materials written to inform animal owners about veterinary care topics do not meet “easy-to-read” guidelines issued by medical organizations.

In “Readability Evaluations of Veterinary Client Handouts and Implications for Patients Care,” published in the journal Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, CVM researchers found nine out of 10 client brochures were written above the recommended fourth-to-sixth-grade reading level recommended by the National Institutes of Health and the American Medical Association.

The research is authored by Kenneth Royal, assistant professor of educational assessment and outcomes; Katie Sheats, assistant professor of equine primary care; and April Kedrowicz, assistant professor of communication.

Veterinarians regularly rely on written communication. Reasons veterinarians use written communication include summarizing veterinary findings following an appointment,  explaining a diagnosis, providing instructions on medication administration and supplementing face-to-face conversations with clients. The study advocates for increased awareness of readability in veterinary communication, especially in a time when animal owners are spending more on veterinary care, food and medications than in the past.

The study analyzed the 10 most-downloaded client handouts of 2017 found on DVM360.com, a leading veterinary information resource. Just one of the handouts was found to be written in a fifth-grade reading level, with other levels ranging from sixth grade up to 10th grade.

The study used readability analysis software that veterinarians and veterinary professionals can freely access online. Similar readability analysis would work for handouts and educational materials offered by veterinarians working in hospitals, practices and colleges, the researchers note.

The study outlines several recommendations, particularly writing content with careful attention to enhanced readability and comprehension by including a focused message and integrating design elements such as white space and bulleted action items.

The study also emphasizes the importance of integrating writing for diverse audiences as part of veterinary education curricula. The CVM’s innovative thee-year preclinical communication curriculum stresses interpersonal and organizational skills with colleagues, clients and the general public.

“With a greater awareness of the issues of readability and health literacy, as well as tools available to prepare ‘easy-to-read’ materials, veterinarians will elevate the service and care they provide to patients and clients alike,” the study concludes.  

Read the full study here.

Read an editorial reaction to the study here.