Readability of lumbar spine MRI reports: Will patients understand?

Paul Hyunsoo Yi, Sean Kenney Golden, John B. Harringa, Mark A. Kliewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE. Radiology reports have traditionally been written for referring clinical providers. However, as patients increasingly access their radiology reports through online medical records, concerns have been raised about their ability to comprehend these complex documents. The purpose of this study was to assess the readability of lumbar spine MRI reports. MATERIALS AND METHODS. We reviewed 110 lumbar spine MRI reports dictated by 11 fellowship-trained radiologists (eight musculoskeletal radiologists and three neuroradiologists) at a single academic medical center. We evaluated each article for readability using five quantitative readability tests: the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Flesch Reading Ease, Gunning Fog Index, Coleman-Liau Index, and the Simple Measure of Gobbledygook. The number of reports with readability at or below eighth-grade level (average reading ability of U.S. adults) and at or below sixth-grade level (level recommended by the National Institutes of Health and the American Medical Association for patient education materials) were determined. RESULTS. The mean readability grade level of the lumbar spine MRI reports was greater than the 12th-grade reading level for all readability scales. Only one report was written at or below eighth-grade level; no reports were written at or below sixth-grade level. CONCLUSION. Lumbar spine MRI reports are written at a level too high for the average patient to comprehend. As patients increasingly read their radiology reports through online portals, consideration should be made of patients’ ability to read and comprehend these complex medical documents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)602-606
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Roentgenology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Patient education
  • Patient-centered care
  • Radiology reports
  • Readability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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