Author(s): Soot LC, Moneta GL, Edwards JM
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Abstract OBJECTIVE: Increasing numbers of patients use the Internet to obtain medical information. The Internet is easily accessible, but available information is under no guidelines or regulations. We sought to evaluate the type, quality, and focus of vascular disease information presented on the Internet and the role in patient education with simple search techniques. METHODS: The arbitrarily chosen search phrases "abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)," "carotid surgery (CEA)," "claudication surgery," and "leg gangrene surgery" were entered into five common Internet search engines. No attempt was made to refine searches. As indicated by the search engines, the 50 most commonly encountered web sites for both AAA and CEA were reviewed. The first 25 claudication sites and the first 25 gangrene sites were combined for a total of 50 leg ischemia (LIS) sites. An information score (IS) was developed as a weighted score ranging from 0 (poor) to 100 (outstanding) and was designed to assess how well the web page educated the patient about the disease, the treatment options, and the medical and surgical complications. Each vascular surgery web site was classified according to the author, the referenced information source, and the therapeutic recommendations. This was followed by an evaluation of each web site with the IS independently scored by two observers. RESULTS: Of the 150 web sites, 146 were accessible. Ninety-six sites (65.8\%) had no useful patient-oriented information (IS < 10). The mean IS and the ranges were: AAA, 14.9 (0 to 72.0); CEA, 17.5 (0 to 77.0); and LIS, 12.2 (0 to 44.5; P =.9). The mean IS of the 59 sites with scores of more than 10 were: AAA, 39.8 (n = 17); CEA, 44.8 (n = 19); and LIS, 24.8 (n = 23; P <.01, as compared with LIS scores). Differences in IS between observers were not significant (P =.9). Misleading or unconventional care recommendations were recognized in one AAA site (1 of 47, 2.1\%), two CEA sites (2 of 49, 4.1\%), and 13 LIS sites (13 of 50, 26.0\%). The Joint Vascular Societies web page was identified only as a tertiary link. CONCLUSION: Patient-oriented vascular surgery information, for common vascular diseases, is difficult to find on the Internet. The overall quality is poor, and information is difficult to obtain in part because of the large number of irrelevant sites. Of the sites that were relevant to patient education (33\%), one third presented information that was classified by the authors as misleading or unconventional. This was most apparent in the leg ischemia sites. The Internet is a poor overall source of patient-oriented vascular surgery information and education. Focused and refined searches and improvements in search engines and educational web sites may yield improved information. Public and medical community awareness needs to be improved regarding the severe limitations of the Internet as an information resource.
This article was published in J Vasc Surg
and referenced in Journal of Global Research in Computer Sciences