Academic websites provide the best information about pediatric orthopedics and commercial sites are the least reliable, according to research presented this week at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.
Researchers from the University of California-Davis School of Medicine and Shriners Hospital for Children-Northern California evaluated information on the top 10 websites for 10 common pediatric orthopedic conditions: brachial plexus injury, cerebral palsy, clubfoot, developmental dysplasia of the hip, leg length discrepancy, osteochondroma, polydactyly, scoliosis, spina bifida and syndactyly.
In all, 98 websites were graded--33 academic, 30 commercial, 31 nonprofit, and four physician-operated.
They used two methods: judging the sites based on Health On the Net Foundation criteria and using custom content-based grading sheets used by three orthopedic surgeons. Each site was evaluated for its summary of the disease or injury/condition, cause, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.
"We found the overall quality of information on the websites to be poor," study author Andrea Bauer, M.D., said in an announcement. "Broad, non-specific information quality was the best, such as an overview of a diagnosis, while more specific information about prognosis and long-term effects was the worst."
Academic websites had the highest mean content score of 60.8, compared with 57 for physician sites, 54.2 for nonprofits and 46.7 for commercial sites.
Bauer also reported finding text, photos and diagrams at times that appeared to have been directly copied from other sites, which posed a problem when the information was incorrect, which it often was.
The researchers advised physicians to talk to their patients about the information they find on the Internet and how that affects their understanding of the conditions and their expectations.
A previous study from the University of California, Davis found that patients seek health information online, not out of mistrust for their doctors, but to become better informed. Another study ranked the ability of search engines to return quality results for health information, putting Google ahead of Bing, Ask.com and Yahoo, though it found all the search engines were lacking.
The poor results back the reasoning of Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at The Everett (Wash.) Clinic who tweets and blogs as Seattle Mama Doc, that social media presents a unique opportunity for physicians to provide reliable medical information.