NEW ORLEANS – Most parents frequently
rely on the Internet for pediatric health information, and yet the content and
quality of information can vary greatly from website to website. According to
new research presented on Sunday, Oct. 21 at the American Academy of Pediatrics
(AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans, websites provided by
academic institutions offer the most reliable pediatric health information, and
commercial-sponsored websites, the least. In general, disease summary and
diagnosis information is more likely to be correct on the Internet than
information about the cause and prognosis for a disease.
In the abstract, “Quality of
Pediatric Orthopedic Information on the Internet,” researchers identified 10
common pediatric orthopedic conditions based on admissions to a children’s
hospital: brachial plexus injury, cerebral palsy, clubfoot, developmental
dysplasia of the hip, leg length discrepancy, osteochondroma, polydactyly,
scoliosis, spina bifida and syndactyly. They then used the two most frequently
utilized Internet search engines to identify the top 10 websites for each
A total of 98 websites – 33
academic, 30 commercial, 31 nonprofit, and four physician-operated – were
judged based on Health On the Net Foundation (HON) criteria. Custom,
content-based grading sheets were used to assess whether the website provided
essential information for each disease, including a summary of the disease or
injury/condition, cause, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. In addition, each
website received independent quality and content scores from three orthopedic
“We found the overall quality
of information on the websites to be poor,” said study author Andrea Bauer, MD.
“Broad, non-specific information quality was the best, such as an overview of a
diagnosis, while more specific information about prognosis and long-term
effects was the worst.”
The content of each website
was scored out of a possible 100 points. Overall, academic websites had the
highest content score (mean: 60.8 ± 15.5), followed by physician (57±18), non
profit (54.2±20.2) and commercial (46.7±22.2).
Among the disease/condition-specific information, osteochondroma websites
had the highest content scores (mean: 75.8 ± 11.8 ), and those on leg length
discrepancy had the lowest (39.5 ± 16.5).
“Also interesting – we found
a lot of overlap of information among different websites, such as text, photos
and diagrams that appeared to be directly copied from one website to another,”
said Dr. Bauer. “This could be very misleading for patients if the information
is incorrect, as was often the case.”
To minimize the effects of
incorrect or misleading information on the Internet, “we advise physicians to
talk with their patients about the information they get on the Internet and how
it affects their understanding of their condition as well as their
expectations,” said Dr. Bauer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary
care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical
specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants,
children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.