The Internet is usually the first stop for people seeking information about common sports injuries such as tennis elbow or a torn rotator cuff. But according to a new study in the July issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the accuracy and quality of that data varies considerably based on the source.
Researchers did Internet searches for 10 of the most common sports medicine diagnoses using Google and Yahoo and then ranked the first 10 websites based on accountability, transparency and content.
Not-for-profit organizations' sites had the best content, according to the study. Following in quality were academic sites and selected “nonsales-oriented commercial sites” such as WebMD. Personal websites and newspapers were the least accurate source of sports medicine information, researchers found, and information was often incomplete on websites sponsored by drug and device companies.
“These site owners are motivated to promote their product, so the information found there may be biased,” said Madhav Karunakar, an orthopedic surgeon and one of the study's authors. “We also found that these sites rarely mentioned the risks or complications associated with treatment as they as trying to represent their product in the best possible light.”
Physicians should direct patients away from commercial websites and suggest instead that they look for a seal of compliance from the Health on the Net Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Switzerland that promotes reliable online health information, the authors said.