Evaluating the quality of online health information about prostate cancer treatment
Lee, Jason Garwing
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BACKGROUND: Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers amongst men, yet it is a surprisingly complex disease. There are currently multiple options for treatment, depending on the stage of the cancer, with new methods currently under investigation. Patients can easily get confused about these treatments including the risks/benefits of each, even after consulting a urologist. Consequently, patients have been increasingly using the internet to learn about various diseases, including prostate cancer. However, because online health information is largely unregulated in the United States, it can be difficult for patients to accurately determine the quality of a website. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study is to evaluate the readability and quality of websites describing prostate cancer treatments. This study hypothesizes that in general, most websites will be both too difficult to read for an average patient, and of an inferior quality. METHODS: This study is a review of websites that could potentially be found by a patient just diagnosed with prostate cancer. Two search engines, Google and Bing, were used with the search terms “prostate cancer” and “prostate cancer treatments”. To evaluate each website’s readability, three readability formulas were used (Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease, and SMOG), while the DISCERN tool was used to evaluate each website’s quality. These scores will be analyzed using a two-tailed, one sample t-test to evaluate whether the readability of prostate cancer treatment websites is more difficult than the AMA/NIH recommended 7th grade level as well as if there is a difference in quality between advertisement and non-advertisement sponsored websites. RESULTS: 40 unique websites were found and 26 of them were analyzed for this study. 7 of these websites were marked as advertisements. The average readability of prostate cancer treatment websites was around an 11th grade reading level, which was significantly higher than the AMA/NIH recommended 7th grade level. Based on DISCERN, there was a significant difference in quality between the advertisement and non-advertisement websites with the average quality of non-advertisement websites being rated as “Good”, while advertisement websites were rated as “Poor”. CONCLUSION: We found that the internet can provide high quality prostate cancer information for patients. However, many of these websites require a high school education to properly interpret. Overall, the internet can act as a useful and informative supplement to a patient’s healthcare. However, given the variable quality of websites, it is important for medical professionals to take an active role in how their patient’s obtain medical information. Medical professionals need to ensure that their own websites are updated regularly, and help guide their patients to find unbiased online health information.