DISCERN is a brief questionnaire that provides users with a valid and reliable way of assessing the quality of written information on treatment choices for a health problem. DISCERN can also be used by authors and publishers of information on treatment choices as a guide to the standard that users are entitled to expect.

Weil et al. evaluated the quality of information available on the Internet to patients with a cervical pathology undergoing elective cervical spine surgery.

Six key words (“cervical discectomy,” “cervical foraminotomy,” “cervical fusion,” “cervical disc replacement,” “cervical arthroplasty,” “cervical artificial disc”) were entered into two different search engines (Google, Yahoo!). For each keyword, the first 50 websites were evaluated for accessibility, comprehensibility, and website quality using the DISCERN tool, transparency and honesty criteria, and an accuracy and exhaustivity scale.

Of 5,098,500 evaluable websites, 600 were visited; 97 (16%) of these websites were evaluated for quality and comprehensiveness. Overall, 3% of sites obtained an excellent global quality score, 7% obtained a good score, 25% obtained an above average score, 15% obtained an average score, 37% obtained a poor score, and 13% obtained a very poor score. High-quality websites were affiliated with a professional society (P = 0.021), had bibliographical references (P = 0.030), and had a recent update within 6 months (r = 0.277, P < 0.001). No correlation between global quality score and other variables was observed.

This study shows that the search for medical information on the Internet is time-consuming and often disappointing. The Internet is a potentially misleading source of information. Surgeons and professional societies must use the Internet as an ally in providing optimal information to patients 1).

Weil AG, Bojanowski MW, Jamart J, Gustin T, Lévêque M. Evaluation of the quality of information on the Internet available to patients undergoing cervical spine surgery. World Neurosurg. 2014 Jul-Aug;82(1-2):e31-9. doi: 10.1016/j.wneu.2012.11.003. Epub 2012 Nov 7. PubMed PMID: 23142585.
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