State governments provide preprinted advance directive forms to the general public. However, many adults in the United States (US) lack the skills necessary to read and comprehend health care-related materials. In this study, we sought to determine the readability of state government-sponsored advance directive forms.
A cross sectional study design was used. The readability of advance directive forms available online from all 50 US states and the District of Columbia was determined using 6 validated readability scales.
Overall, 62 advance directive forms were obtained. For 47 states, forms were available by way of government-sponsored Web sites. The average (SD) readability (with the Flesch-Kincaid score) of all forms was grade level 11.9 (2.6). Similar results were obtained with the other readability scales. No form had a readability score at the 5th grade level or lower, the level recommended by the National Work Group on Literacy and Health. The readability of the forms exceeded this level by an average of 6.9 grade levels (95% confidence interval, 6.3-7.6; P < .001). Only 5 of the forms had a readability score at 8th grade level or lower, the average reading skill level of US adults. The readability of the forms exceeded this level by an average of 3.9 grade levels (95% confidence interval, 3.3-4.6; P < .001).
The readability of US state government-sponsored advance directive forms exceeds the readability level recommended by the National Work Group on Literacy and Health and the average reading skill level of most US adults. Such forms may inhibit advance care planning and therefore patient autonomy.