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Exercise Caution When Searching Internet for Sports Injury Information


Do you do a Google search for the injury you incurred running this weekend? or for your son’s injury in the baseball game? You are among the soaring numbers who use the Internet to access health information, but be careful.

According to a study published in the July 2010 issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery often the information is wrong or incomplete.

Orthopaedic surgeon Madhav A. Karunakar at the Carolinas Medical Centre, Charolotte, North Carolina and colleagues chose to look at the quality of the Internet information available as more and more patients presented to their offices with printouts obtained from the Internet.

Karunakar and colleagues chose ten common orthopedic sports medicine diagnoses including shoulder ligament injury, tennis elbow, shoulder separation, knee pain and joint defects. Custom grading templates were developed for each condition which included an assessment of web-site type, the accountability and transparency of the information (Health On the Net Foundation [HON] score), and the information content.

The information content was divided into five subcategories: disease summary, pathogenesis, diagnostics, treatment and complications, and outcomes and prognosis. Searches were done using two popular search engines (Google and Yahoo), and the top ten sites from each search were independently reviewed by three authors.

Duplicate sites were eliminated, leaving a total of 154 unique sites which were reviewed. The source of the information was recorded, whether the site's owner was a non-profit organization, news source, academic institution, individual, physician, or commercial enterprise.

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The most common web-site types were commercial (seventy-four sites) and academic (thirty-two sites). The presence of the HONcode seal was associated with significantly higher HON (p = 0.0001) and content scores (p = 0.002).

In terms of content, non-profit sites scored the highest, then academic sites (including medical journal sites), and then certain non-sales-oriented commercial sites (such as WebMD and eMedicine).

The least-accurate information sources were newspaper articles and personal web sites.

Commercial sites with a financial interest in the diagnosis, such as those sponsored by companies selling a drug or treatment device, were very common but frequently incomplete.

About 20 percent of the sites that turned up in the top ten results were sponsored sites. These site owners are motivated to promote their product, so the information found on these sites was often biased and rarely mentioned the risks or complications associated with treatment.

If you are looking for information on your injury or illness on the Internet, exercise caution. Look for well-known sites, especially those that display the HONcode seal of compliance with transparency and accountability practices.

James S. Starman, F. Keith Gettys, Jason A. Capo, James E. Fleischli, H. James Norton, and Madhav A. Karunakar; Quality and Content of Internet-Based Information for Ten Common Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Diagnoses; J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2010;92:1612-1618.