Background: In the era of new information and communication technologies, the Internet is being increasingly accessed for health-related information. Indeed, recently published patient surveys of people with autoimmune disorders confirmed that the Internet was reported as one of the most important health information sources. Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia launched in 2001, is generally one of the most visited websites worldwide and is often consulted for health-related information. Objective: The main objective of this investigation was to quantitatively assess whether the Wikipedia pages related to autoimmune disorders can be easily accessed by patients and their families, in terms of readability. Methods: We obtained and downloaded a list of autoimmune disorders from the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) website. We analyzed Wikipedia articles for their overall level of readability with 6 different quantitative readability scales: (1) the Flesch Reading Ease, (2) the Gunning Fog Index, (3) the Coleman-Liau Index, (4) the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, (5) the Automated Readability Index (ARI), and (6) the Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG). Further, we investigated the correlation between readability and clinical, pathological, and epidemiological parameters. Moreover, each Wikipedia analysis was assessed according to its content, breaking down the readability indices by main topic of each part (namely, pathogenesis, treatment, diagnosis, and prognosis plus a section containing paragraphs not falling into any of the previous categories). Results: We retrieved 134 diseases from the AARDA website. The Flesch Reading Ease yielded a mean score of 24.34 (SD 10.73), indicating that the sites were very difficult to read and best understood by university graduates, while mean Gunning Fog Index and ARI scores were 16.87 (SD 2.03) and 14.06 (SD 2.12), respectively. The Coleman-Liau Index and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level yielded mean scores of 14.48 (SD 1.57) and 14.86 (1.95), respectively, while the mean SMOG score was 15.38 (SD 1.37). All the readability indices confirmed that the sites were suitable for a university graduate reading level. We found no correlation between readability and clinical, pathological, and epidemiological parameters. Differences among the different sections of the Wikipedia pages were statistically significant. Conclusions: Wikipedia pages related to autoimmune disorders are characterized by a low level of readability. The onus is, therefore, on physicians and health authorities to improve the health literacy skills of patients and their families and to create, together with patients themselves, disease-specific readable sites, disseminating highly accessible health-related online information, in terms of both clarity and conciseness.
- Autoimmune diseases