Thanks to the Internet, people all over the world can have access to whatever information they desire. But is it always a good idea to trust what you read, especially where serious matters such as health are concerned? The World Wide Web is brimming with health and medical information and many people take it at face value, which can sometimes have grave consequences. A team of US researchers from Cleveland-based University Hospitals Case Medical Center conducted a study into the quality and accuracy of online information on vertebroplasty, concluding that the overall picture is far from reassuring.
Vertebroplasty is a procedure involving the injection of a special medical-grade cement mixture into a fractured vertebra. There is heated debate over the efficacy of this procedure so it is extremely important that patients base their treatment decision on complete and accurate information. However, they should not rely on Internet sites for self-education.
Led by T. Barrett Sullivan, the research team studied 105 websites providing information about vertebroplasty. They concluded that not only was the information inadequate but it could mislead patients because the websites tended to highlight the benefits of the procedure rather than the risks. Using criteria such as site authorship or sponsorship, content, references cited and contact details, the researchers rated the websites as “excellent”, “high”, “moderate”, “low” or “unacceptable.” Information quality and accuracy was rated “excellent” for only 7% of the websites. Worryingly, 57% of the sites were flagged as providing “unacceptable” information. While every website detailed the benefits of vertebroplasty, only 53% made any mention of potential risks. In addition, just 51% provided information about alternative treatments and a mere 27% cited peer-reviewed sources.