Foot and ankle patients seeking education on the internet are likely to come across poor quality information on their diagnosis, US researchers warn.
Their review of 136 websites on the 10 most common foot and ankle diagnoses gave an average content score of just 49.7 points out of a possible 100.0 points for critical information expected to be given to a patient at time of diagnosis. This included critical analysis of disease summary, pathogenesis, diagnostic tests, treatment options and complications, prognosis, and outcomes.
In addition, the websites, identified using colloquial terms on two leading search engines, had an average Health On The Net Foundation (HON) code score of just 62.4%. The HONcode score reflects the website’s integrity, giving points for transparency and honesty, authority, privacy and data protection, updating of information, accountability, and accessibility.
“These data raise concerns about the overall quality of foot and ankle Internet information currently available to patients,” write Eric Bluman (Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts, USA) and co-authors.
“As medical information on the Internet and through other forms of technology becomes even more readily available, physicians should take an active role identifying and guiding patients to websites with complete, accurate, and easily comprehensible information.”
The review included academic, commercial, personal, physician, and nonprofit organization websites, providing information on the top billing diagnoses – ankle arthritis, ankle instability, ankle fracture, hallux valgus, metatarsal fracture, Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, posterior tibial tendinitis, hallux rigidus, and ankle sprain.
Of note, the highest content and HON scores were achieved by websites authored by healthcare providers and podiatrists (52.3 and 61.7%). The lowest scored websites were authored by nonhealthcare providers (41.4 and 51.6%).
The 34% of websites displaying the HONcode seal, indicating they meet specific quality standards, scored significantly higher than those without the seal for both HONcode (76.8 vs 54.9) and content (54.4 vs 47.2).
While noting that HONcode websites often had only “mediocre” content scores, the team concludes in Foot and Ankle Surgery that “identification of the HONcode seal is a quick and easy way to direct patients to slightly higher quality websites.”