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Purpose: The internet provides access to a myriad of educational health-related resources which are an invaluable source of information for patients. Lower back pain is a common complaint that is discussed extensively online. In this article, we aim to determine if the most commonly accessed articles about lower back pain imaging use language that can be understood by most patients. According to the American Medical Association (AMA) and National Institute of Health (NIH), this corresponds to a sixth-grade reading level.

Methods: Online searches were conducted from the most commonly used search engine, Google, to assess the present state of readability on radiograph imaging for LBP. Then the top 20 populated URL links from each search were utilized based on “health & fitness” search trends and click-through rates (CTRs). The readability of various websites was evaluated with WebFX online software that analyzed the unique websites' text when put into reader view on Firefox web browser version 116.0.3 (64-bit). Evaluation occurred via five common readability indices: the Automated Readability Index (ARI), the Coleman Liau Index (CLI), the SMOG index, the Gunning Fog Score Index (GFSI), and the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level Index (FKGLI). In addition, the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease Index (FKREI) was also used but was excluded from the calculation due to its measuring scale outside of US grade levels. The number of samples was analyzed via health and fitness-specific CTR from an open-access database from July 2022 to July 2023. This was used to calculate the number of persons clicking and visiting positional URLs (first URL to the 20th URL) from each unique keyword search and the rational criteria for selecting the first 20 websites for each query.

Results: Online material that included LBP imaging information was calculated to have an overall readability score of 10.745 out of the 23 websites obtained from unique searches. The range was a mean readability score of 8 to 14. Notably, 17 websites were excluded from a total of 40 websites due to duplication of the same data (URLs that resulted from both unique searches) and accessibility requiring payment (specifically, an UpToDate link). A readability score of 10.745 refers to an 11th-grade reading level. That is to say, the most commonly visited sites on Google that contain information about lower back pain imaging are, on average, five grade levels higher than the sixth-grade reading level recommended by the AMA and the NIH.

Conclusions: Most internet content regarding lower back pain imaging is written at a reading level that is above the recommended limit defined by the AMA and NIH. To improve education about lower back pain imaging and the patient-physician relationship, we recommend guiding patients to online material that contains a reading level at the sixth-grade level as suggested by the AMA and NIH.



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click-through rate, lumbar pain, radiography, lower back pain, back pain, online information, radiograph, imaging, readability, health literacy