Flaky online info scares surgery patients

Researching surgery on the internet leaves patients upset and confused, thanks to reams of misleading information.

Research from Chesterfield Royal Hospital shows that over a quarter of patients who used the internet to look up information regarding forthcoming operations found the information worrying or confusing.

The study surveyed 105 patients undergoing elective hernia or gallbladder surgery. It found that 58 percent of those who searched the internet for additional information did so using a search engine.

Previous studies have shown that most people who look for health-related information through search engines use short, often misspelt search phrases and seldom go beyond the first page of search results.

The study also documents that the prioritisation of certain websites found by search engines was occasionally subject to commercial bias.

“Information about medical conditions or procedures available on the internet is unregulated, sometimes commercially sponsored and often overwhelming to the patients,” warned author Anand Tamhankar. “Our study highlights the need for regulated comprehensible patient information on hospital websites that patients should be actively made aware of.

Sue Woodward, Chair Elect of the Patient Liaison Group of the Royal College of Surgeons of England said: “It is vital that patients have access to appropriate, understandable information before and after an operation.  Too often information provided online is patchy, unregulated and inconsistent.  Good communication doesn’t end with discussing care with the patient in person, and doctors should stay up-to-date with what is available online so they can highlight the good sites to find information that is regulated and accurate.”

The Royal College of Surgeons would prefer people to check its own independent website.