BACKGROUND: Patients are increasingly reliant upon the Internet as a primary source of medical information. The educational experience varies by search engine, search term, and changes daily. There are no tools for critical evaluation of spinal surgery websites.
PURPOSE: To highlight the variability between common search engines for the same search terms. To detect bias, by prevalence of specific kinds of websites for certain spinal disorders. Demonstrate a simple scoring system of spinal disorder website for patient use, to maximize the quality of information exposed to the patient.
STUDY DESIGN: Ten common search terms were used to query three of the most common search engines. The top fifty results of each query were tabulated. A negative binomial regression was performed to highlight the variation across each search engine.
RESULTS: Google was more likely than Bing and Yahoo search engines to return hospital ads (P=0.002) and more likely to return scholarly sites of peer-reviewed lite (P=0.003). Educational web sites, surgical group sites, and online web communities had a significantly higher likelihood of returning on any search, regardless of search engine, or search string (P=0.007). Likewise, professional websites, including hospital run, industry sponsored, legal, and peer-reviewed web pages were less likely to be found on a search overall, regardless of engine and search string (P=0.078).
CONCLUSION: The Internet is a rapidly growing body of medical information which can serve as a useful tool for patient education. High quality information is readily available, provided that the patient uses a consistent, focused metric for evaluating online spine surgery information, as there is a clear variability in the way search engines present information to the patient.
Recommended CitationGhobrial, MD, George M.; Mehdi, Angud; Maltenfort, PhD, Mitchell; Sharan, MD, Ashwini D; and Harrop, MD, James, "Variability of patient spine education by Internet search engine." (2014). Department of Neurosurgery Faculty Papers. Paper 48.