Sports medicine advice online varies widely

Sports medicine information from online sites varies widely in quality, say doctors who reviewed advice for 10 common diagnoses.

Sports medicine information from online sites varies widely in quality, say doctors who reviewed advice for 10 common diagnoses.

Patients often come to doctors' offices with printouts of information from the web, but the quality of information has not kept up with the pace of internet use, U.S. researchers say.

In the July issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Dr. Madhav Karunakar, an orthopedic surgeon at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., and colleagues reviewed the top 10 search results on Google and Yahoo for 10 diagnoses:

  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear.
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear.
  • Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tear.
  • Rotator cuff tear.
  • Meniscal tear.
  • Labral tear (shoulder ligament injury).
  • Tennis elbow.
  • Acromioclavicular joint separation (shoulder separation).
  • Patellofemoral syndrome (knee pain).
  • Osteochondral defect (joint defect).

Researchers reviewed the sites for completeness, correctness and clarity of the information, as well as the source of information, such as a nonprofit organization, news source, academic institution, individual, physician or commercial enterprise.

Nonprofit sites scored the highest on content, followed by academic sites including medical journal sites, and then certain non-sales-oriented commercial sites like WebMD and eMedicine.

News articles and personal websites were the least accurate sources, the researchers found.

Commercial sites with a financial interest in the diagnosis, such as those sponsored by companies selling a drug or treatment device, appeared in about 20 per cent of the top 10 results. But these were often incomplete and rarely mentioned the risks or complications associated with a treatment, Karunakar said.

"Patients should be encouraged to exercise caution and to utilize only well-known sites and those that display the [Health On the Net Foundation] code seal of compliance with transparency and accountability practices," the study's authors concluded.

Despite the problems, the researchers acknowledged the internet represents the future in how patients will get information to make health-care decisions, so both doctors and patients need to make sure the information comes from reputable and accurate sources.