Dr Google: The readability and accuracy of patient education websites for Graves' disease treatment

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Abstract

Background.

National guidelines emphasize the importance of incorporating patient preferences into the recommendations for the treatment of Graves' disease. Many patients use the Internet to obtain health information, and search results can affect their treatment decisions. This study compares the readability and accuracy of patient-oriented online resources for the treatment of Graves' disease by website affiliation and treatment modality.

Methods.

A systematic Internet search was used to identify the top websites discussing the treatment of Graves' disease. Readability was measured using 5 standardized tests. Accuracy was assessed by a blinded, expert panel, which scored the accuracy of sites on a scale of 1 to 5. Mean readability and accuracy scores were compared among website affiliations and treatment modalities.

Results.

We identified 13 unique websites, including 2 academic, 2 government, 5 nonprofit, and 4 private sites. There was a difference in both readability (mean 13.2, range 9.1–15.7, P = .003) and accuracy (mean 4.04, range 2.75–4.50, P = .019) based on website affiliation. Government sites (mean readability 11.1) were easier to read than academic (14.3, P < .01), nonprofit (13.9, P < .01), and private sites (13.5, P < .05). Academic sites (mean accuracy 4.50) were more accurate than private sites (3.56, P < .05).

Conclusion.

Online patient resources for the treatment of Graves' disease are written at an inappropriately high reading level. Academic sites contain both the most accurate and the most difficult to read information. Private sites represented the majority of our top results but contained the least accurate information.

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