alexa Surfing the Net--information on the World Wide Web for persons with arthritis: patient empowerment or patient deceit?


Journal of Vascular Medicine & Surgery

Author(s): SuarezAlmazor ME, Kendall CJ, Dorgan M

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Abstract OBJECTIVE: In the past few years access to the Internet has become readily available. Patients are increasingly seeking and obtaining health information through the Internet, most often the World Wide Web (WWW). We assessed the content, authorship, and scope of the information available on WWW in relation to rheumatoid arthritis. METHODS: In an attempt to replicate use by the average person, a broad search of the Internet was conducted for the phrase "rheumatoid arthritis" using WebCrawler, a commonly used search engine. All the "hits" were critically assessed after visiting and collecting information from the respective Web sites in relation to relevance, scope, authorship, type of publication, and financial objectives. RESULTS: The search returned 537 hits. We evaluated 531-2 did not exist, 2 could not be contacted, one was not in English, and one required a membership to access. The 531 hits originated from 388 Web sites. Only 198 (51\%) were considered to be relevant and 7 (2\%) were of doubtful relevance. Thirty-four (17\%) were posted by an individual, 57 (28\%) by a nonprofit organization, 104 (51\%) by a profit industry, and 10 (5\%) by universities. Ninety-one (44\%) promoted alternative therapies, the most common including cetyl-myristoleate, colloidal minerals, Pycnogenol, shark cartilage, and Tahitian Noni. Of the 107 sites with financial interests, 76 (71\%) promoted alternative medicine. The first 100 hits only identified about a third of the nonprofit organizations or university owned Web pages. CONCLUSION: Many sites easily accessed by consumers appear to be profit based companies advertising an alternative product claimed to be effective for many conditions. These findings emphasize the need for critical evaluation of Web site contents.
This article was published in J Rheumatol and referenced in Journal of Vascular Medicine & Surgery

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