Assessing Readability and Reliability of Online Patient Information Regarding Vestibular Schwannoma

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Abstract

Hypothesis:

The aim of this study is to objectively assess the quality and readability of websites related to vestibular schwannomas.

Background:

Patients are increasingly seeking information on confirmed or suspected diagnoses through the Internet. Clinicians are often concerned regarding the accuracy, quality, and readability of web-based sites.

Methods:

Online information relating to vestibular schwannoma was searched using the three most popular search engines. The terms “acoustic neuroma” and “vestibular schwannoma” were used. The top 50 results from each site were assessed for readability using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Flesch Reading Ease Score, and the Gunning-Fog Index. Quality of website information was scored using the DISCERN tool.

Results:

Of 300 search results analyzed, 58 separate appropriate websites were identified. The mean readability score using Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level was 10.27 (95% confidence interval [CI] 9.84–10.70). The mean Flesch Reading Ease Score was 48.75 (95% CI 46.57–50.92). The Gunning-Fog Index was 13.40 (95% CI 12.92–13.89). These scores equate to someone finishing secondary school/first year university student. DISCERN scores were highly variable but consistently demonstrated great variability in quality of information.

Conclusion:

Online patient information on vestibular schwannoma is highly variable in quality. Although there are a wide range of different websites easily available to patients on their condition and its treatment options, the information is written at a difficult level which may exceed the understanding level of many patients as it is written at a higher than average level of expected reading ability.

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