The emergence and accessibility of the Internet during the past 20 years has put vast amounts of medical information at patients’ fingertips. According to the Pew Internet Project, four out of five Internet users looked for health information online in 2011—and two thirds of them were looking for information on a specific condition. Health information is the third most popular online pursuit (following email and online search engine searches).
As a result, patients are increasingly arriving for medical appointments armed with information obtained from Internet sources. Unfortunately, much of that information may be inaccurate or misleading. Medical providers need to be aware of this and guide their patients to quality websites for medical information related to their condition. With that in mind, the AAOS launched its patient information website, OrthoInfo.org (Fig. 1).
Since its inception, the user-friendly site has provided patients with detailed, concise information about many common musculoskeletal health conditions. Recently, our institution performed a pilot study to assess patient satisfaction with OrthoInfo.org and to better determine how to communicate with patients and assist them with finding the information they desired for their orthopaedic conditions.
Study design, results
Patients were given a letter explaining the purpose of our study and informing them of what they could expect to find on the OrthoInfo.org website. At the end of their visit with the orthopaedic surgeon, patients were handed business cards stating their diagnosis, instructing them to visit OrthoInfo.org to learn more, and asking them complete a survey about the website.
Survey results showed that 56 percent of the respondents typically use the Internet to learn more about their musculoskeletal and joint problems, but none of them had heard of OrthoInfo.org prior to being informed of it by their orthopaedic surgeon. In addition, 84 percent of all respondents stated that they were satisfied with the information they found on the website. Although more than half of the respondents used another website to look up information on their diagnosis, more than 80 percent stated that they understood their diagnosis better after visiting OrthoInfo.org
Almost all (97 percent) of the respondents felt that OrthoInfo.org was a credible website and 88 percent thought it was easy to use. Most of the survey respondents (70 percent) felt that including more pictures and diagrams was the biggest improvement that could be made to the site. Importantly, 90 percent stated that they would use OrthoInfo.org again, and more than 80 percent stated they would recommend the website to others.
The respondents also answered questions about the amount of time it took for them to find their diagnosis on OrthoInfo.org, the total amount of time they spent on the site, and the usefulness of OrthoInfo.org in comparison to other websites (Figs. 2, 3, and 4).
Patient reaction to the site
The respondents’ overall comments about the website were mostly positive and included the following:
- I found the information very informative and I understand my diagnosis and treatment more thoroughly.
- I was surprised that all the symptoms I currently have are in the same category; I often have neck, elbow, and forearm pain along with my carpal tunnel syndrome. I thought they were separate problems, but now I see they are all connected.
- Your website was very useful and I plan to use it next time I have questions.
- I would make more people aware of this website.
Our limited survey revealed that many patients were not aware of OrthoInfo.org, but after being informed of the website, found it helpful in learning about their orthopaedic conditions. Most of the respondents to our survey clearly indicated that they are likely to tell others of the website and use it again themselves.
To increase patient awareness, orthopaedic surgeons may want to consider informing their patients of the website directly or providing a link to OrthoInfo.org on their personal or practice-based web pages. As physicians, we may find it easier to treat patients who have access to reliable information on OrthoInfo.org, as opposed to some of the other thousands of medical websites that patients commonly visit.
The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private views of the authors and are not to be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense.
Chad A. Krueger, MD, and Daniel J. Stinner, MD, are residents at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, where Kevin L. Kirk, DO, is chief of the integrated orthopaedic surgery service.