Total Knee Arthroplasty: A Quantitative Assessment of Online Patient Education Resources

Trevor R. Gulbrandsen, Mary Kate Skalitzky, Sarah E. Ryan, Burke Gao, Alan G. Shamrock, Timothy S. Brown, Jacob M. Elkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Patients often turn to the online resources to learn about orthopedic procedures. As the rate of joint arthroplasty is projected to increase, the corresponding interest in relevant online education material will increase as well. The American Medical Association (AMA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend that publicly available online health information be written at the 6th grade or lower reading level to be fully understood by the average adult in the United States. Additionally, educational resources should be written such that readers can process key information (understandability) or identify available actions to take (actionability). The purpose of this study was to quantify the readability, understandability, and actionability of online patient educational materials regarding total knee arthroplasty (TKA). Methods: The most common Google™ search term utilized by the American public was determined to be "knee replacement". Subsequently two independent online searches ( were performed. From the top 50 search results, websites were included if directed at educating patients regarding TKA. Non-text websites (audiovisual), articles (news/research/industry), and unrelated resources were excluded. Readability was quantified using the following valid objective algorithms: Flesch-Kincaid Grade-Level (FKGL), Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG) grade, Coleman-Liau Index (CLI), and Gunning-Fog Index (GFI). PEMAT was utilized to assess understandability and actionability (0-100%; score ≥70% indicates acceptable scoring). The relationship between search rank with FKGL and PEMAT scores was quantified. Results: A total of 34 (68%) unique websites met inclusion criteria. The mean FKGL, SMOG, CLI, and GFI was 11.8±1.6, 11.1±1.2, 11.9±1.4, and 14.7±1.6, respectively. None of the websites scored within the acceptable NIH/AMA recommended reading levels. Mean understandability and actionability scores were 54.9±12.1 and 30.3±22.0. Only 5.9% (n=2) and 9.2% (n=1) of websites met the ≥70% threshold for understandability and actionability. Only 29.4% (n=10) sources used common language and only 26.9% (n=9) properly defined complicated medical terms. Based on website type, the mean understandability scores for academic institution, private practice, and health information publisher websites were 57.2±8.8%, 52.6±11.1%, and 54.3±15.3% (p=0.67). Readability (rho: -0.07; p=0.69), understandability (rho: -0.02; p=0.93), and actionability (rho: -0.22; p=0.23) scores were not associated with Google™ search rank. Conclusion: TKA materials scored poorly with respect to readability, understandability, and actionability. None of the resources scored within the recommended AMA/NIH reading levels. Only 5.9% scored adequately on understandability measures. Substantial efforts are needed to improve online resources to optimize patient comprehension and facilitate informed decision-making. Level of Evidence: III.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-106
Number of pages9
JournalThe Iowa orthopaedic journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • health literacy
  • knee arthroplasty
  • patient education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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