Should You Trust Online Spine Surgery Information?

Study Evaluates Quality of Online Content

Where do you turn for medical information and guidance? Your primary care physician? A friend or family member?

If you are like many people, one of your first stops is the Internet (let’s face it, you’re reading this article right now!).

QuestionsIn a recent study published online, researchers in Canada evaluated the quality of online information available to patients undergoing cervical spine surgery. The goal of the study, “Evaluation of the quality of information on the Internet available to cervical spine surgery patients,” was to assess the content that patients find online—content which often influences treatment decisions. The study was published online ahead of print in November 2012 in the journal World Neurosurgery.

How the Study Was Conducted
To evaluate online information about cervical spine surgery, the researchers considered the steps that a patient would take if she were told that she required an elective cervical spine procedure. The researchers entered 6 keywords (such as “cervical fusion”) into 2 search engines—Google and Yahoo!—to observe and evaluate the first 50 site results. Sites were evaluated based on their accessibility, quality, and comprehensibility.

What the Researchers Found
The researchers visited 600 sites, and 97 of these sites received a full evaluation. Only 3% of the sites received a score of excellent; 7% received a score of good; 25% were classified as above average; 15% were average; 37% received a score of poor; and 13% were very poor. Higher scores were seen among sites that were connected to a professional society, contained references, and which had been updated within the past 6 months.

What This Study Means for You
The wealth of information available online can be difficult to navigate when you are searching for important medical information, such as information about spine surgery. This study shows that online cervical spine surgery content varies in quality. It is a good idea to do your own research, but make sure that you consult with your doctor before making any decisions about spinal surgery procedures. If you do go online, seek out sites that are frequently updated, and which clearly list their references.

As always, SpineUniverse provides doctor-written and -reviewed articles on a variety of spinal conditions. For more information about cervical spinal surgery, read our Cervical Spine Surgery: An Overview article.

Updated on: 10/06/15
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