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A critical evaluation of Web sites offering patient information on tinnitus

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January 1, 2010
by Stephen M. Kieran, AFRCSI, Liam J. Skinner, FRCS (ORL-HNS), Martin Donnelly, FRCS (ORL-HNS), and David A. Smyth, FRCS (ORL-HNS)


The Internet is a vast information resource for both patients and healthcare professionals. However, the quality and content often lack formal scrutiny, so we examined the quality of patient information regarding tinnitus on the Internet. Using the three most popular search engines (google.com, yahoo.com, and msn.com), we found pertinent Web sites using the search term tinnitus. Web sites' accountability and authorship were evaluated using previously published criteria. The quality of patient information about tinnitus was assessed using a new 10-point scale, the Tinnitus Information Value (TIV). Statistical analysis was performed using the independent sample t-test (p ≤ 0.05). An electronic database of 90 Web sites was constructed using the first 30 English-language Web sites identified by each search engine. After duplicates and sites only containing links to other Web sites were eliminated, 39 remained. The mean score for accountability was 2.13 on scale of 0 to 7. The mean TIV was 5.0 on a scale of 0 to 10. Only 12 sites (30.8%) had their authors clearly identified. Twenty-two (56.4%) sites were sponsored by commercial interests or represented private practices. The mean TIV was significantly higher (p = 0.037) for noncommercial (personal, academic institution, or charity) sites (5.88 ± 2.39 SD) than those representing commercial interests (4.32 ± 2.10 SD). Tinnitus information available on the Internet is indeed variable, and care should be taken in recommending tinnitus Web sites to patients.

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