Coronavirus (1113) Health websites on COVID-19: are they readable and credible enough to help public self-care?

17 January, 2021

Readability, credibility and accuracy are all key factors in meeting the information needs of diverse audiences.

This is an interesting and simple study reported in July 2020 in the Journal of the Medical Library Association. Comments from me below.

CITATION: Health websites on COVID-19: are they readable and credible enough to help public self-care?

Saeideh Valizadeh-Haghi, Yasser Khazaal, Shahabedin Rahmatizadeh,


Journal of Medical Library Association Volume 109, Number 1: 75-83



There are concerns about nonscientific and/or unclear information on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that is available on the Internet. Furthermore, people’s ability to understand health information varies and depends on their skills in reading and interpreting information. This study aims to evaluate the readability and creditability of websites with COVID-19-related information.


The search terms “coronavirus,” “COVID,” and “COVID-19” were input into Google. The websites of the first thirty results for each search term were evaluated in terms of their credibility and readability using the Health On the Net Foundation code of conduct (HONcode) and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FKGL), Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG), Gunning Fog, and Flesch Reading Ease Score (FRE) scales, respectively.


The readability of COVID-19-related health information on websites was suitable for high school graduates or college students and, thus, was far above the recommended readability level. Most websites that were examined (87.2%) had not been officially certified by HONcode. There was no significant difference in the readability scores of websites with and without HONcode certification.


These results suggest that organizations should improve the readability of their websites and provide information that more people can understand. This could lead to greater health literacy, less health anxiety, and the provision of better preventive information about the disease.

COMMENT (NPW): The paper includes a fascinating list of the websites that emerge at the top of Google results, and their readability. The CDC website had the lowest readability score ('very difficult to read') while the NHS had the highest ('fairly easy to read'). A few observations:

1. Oddly Wikipedia was not mentioned, although it usually comes near the top in my Google searches.

2. It would be helpful to know what are the comparative readability of other commonly visited sites such as news sites and guidance on social media/IT (personally I often find the latter sites unintelligible!)

3. Most obviously, this study was done in English only. It would be useful to have comparative data in other languages.

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA project on COVID-19, supported by University of Edinburgh

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: