Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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Readability of online COVID-19 health information: a comparison between four English speaking countries

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posted on 2022-03-10, 14:42 authored by Amy P. Worrall, Mary J. Connolly, Aine O'Neill, Murray O’Doherty, Kenneth P. Thornton, Cora McNallyCora McNally, Samuel McConkeySamuel McConkey, Eoghan De BarraEoghan De Barra
Background: The internet is now the first line source of health information for many people worldwide. In the current Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic, health information is being produced, revised, updated and disseminated at an increasingly rapid rate. The general public are faced with a plethora of misinformation regarding COVID-19 and the readability of online information has an impact on their understanding of the disease. The accessibility of online healthcare information relating to COVID-19 is unknown. We sought to evaluate the readability of online information relating to COVID-19 in four English speaking regions: Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, and compare readability of website source provenance and regional origin.
Methods: The Google® search engine was used to collate the first 20 webpage URLs for three individual searches for 'COVID', 'COVID-19', and 'coronavirus' from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. The Gunning Fog Index (GFI), Flesch-Kincaid Grade (FKG) Score, Flesch Reading Ease Score (FRES), Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG) score were calculated to assess the readability.
Results: There were poor levels of readability webpages reviewed, with only 17.2% of webpages at a universally readable level. There was a significant difference in readability between the different webpages based on their information source (p < 0.01). Public Health organisations and Government organisations provided the most readable COVID-19 material, while digital media sources were significantly less readable. There were no significant differences in readability between regions.
Conclusion: Much of the general public have relied on online information during the pandemic. Information on COVID-19 should be made more readable, and those writing webpages and information tools should ensure universal accessibility is considered in their production. Governments and healthcare practitioners should have an awareness of the online sources of information available, and ensure that readability of our own productions is at a universally readable level which will increase understanding and adherence to health guidelines.



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Published Citation

Worrall AP, et al. Readability of online COVID-19 health information: a comparison between four English speaking countries. BMC Public Health. 2020;20(1):1635.

Publication Date

13 November 2020

PubMed ID



  • Beaumont Hospital
  • International Health and Tropical Medicine


Springer Nature


  • Published Version (Version of Record)