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Patients are "worried and confused" over misleading information about surgery on the internet

22 September 2009

One in four patients, undergoing common surgery such as hernia repair or gallbladder removal are confused and worried about their operations after researching them on the internet, according to a new study published in the Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England.

The report, carried out by clinicians at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, revealed that 26% 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 all of whom were asked to complete a questionnaire on the morning of their operation on arrival to the ward. Of the patients who searched the internet for additional information, 58% did so using a search engine. Previous studies have demonstrated 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. Poor results were also seen in web searches for simple surgical search phrases, with a great amount of variability in the available information with regards to surgical treatment options and surgical complications.

The author of the report, Mr. Anand Tamhankar, said: “We surveyed patients having commonly-performed surgical procedures like hernia repair and removal of the gallbladder and found that a substantial number of patients sought additional information about their procedure on the internet. Over a quarter of those who sought such information were left confused or worried. Information about medical conditions or procedures available on the internet is unregulated, sometimes commercially sponsored and often overwhelming to the patients.

“Having appropriate preoperative information is vital for patients and it does influence outcomes from surgical procedures. 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, alongside its patient liaison group, produces accurate, free and independent information for patients regarding both common surgical procedures and recovering from an operation in the patient information section on its website:
http://www.rcseng.ac.uk/patient_information.

Reference:
Tamhankar AP, Mazari F, Everitt NJ, Ravi K. Use of the internet by patients undergoing elective hernia repair or cholecystectomy. Ann R Coll Surg Engl 2009; 91: 460–463

 

 

 

Notes to Editors
 
1. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care. Registered charity number: 212808. For more information please visit www.rcseng.ac.uk
2. If you have any queries please contact:
Matthew Worrall  – Email: mworrall@rcseng.ac.uk; T: 020 7869 6047
Elaine Towell  – Email: etowell@rcseng.ac.uk; T: 020 7869 6045
Out-of-hours: 07966 486 832