Washington TA, Fanciullo GJ, Sorensen JA, Baird JC.
Department of Anesthesiology, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA.
Background. The Web not only can play a role in helping patients learn about their chronic pain, but can also be a source of misleading or untrue information. This study evaluates the quality of Internet information available concerning chronic pain at different sites, and determines the relation between quality and the source and character of the Websites. Methods. A survey was conducted of patients seen at the Pain Management Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). Patients with access to the Internet identified the five most common keywords they used to look up information: pain, chronic pain, back pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. A focus group of pain clinicians at DHMC then chose the quality criteria to evaluate Websites. The criteria consisted of 16 items in five domains: etiology, diagnosis, goals of treatment, treatment options, and substance abuse. The first two pages of links displayed by each of three major search engines then were assessed for quality. Results. A total of 240 Websites were evaluated. The mean score, the Quality Website Index (QWI), was 2.17 (SD = 3.3), (range from -16 [poorest] to +16 [best]). The overall quality of this group of Websites is rather poor, although there were several excellent sites. Websites located on the main search page had a significantly higher score than those in the sponsored section, and Websites based on standards had a significantly higher score than those that were not. Conclusion. Based on QWI scores, clinicians can recommend chronic pain Websites to provide their patients with accurate and pertinent information.