Published 4/1/2017
Alan S. Hilibrand, MD

Are Your Patients Visiting Reliable Websites for Information?

A new study, presented at the AAOS 2017 Annual Meeting, confirmed what many orthopaedic surgeons already know: Most of their patients use the Internet to research symptoms, conditions, and procedures, and that the information they are accessing may not be reliable. In addition, although nearly all the orthopaedic patients in the study found the Internet information to be “very” or “somewhat useful,” previous studies revealed that most medical providers consider web-based healthcare information to be biased, incomplete, or inaccurate. This perception gap often causes physicians to spend unnecessary time correcting false information and/or allaying unnecessary patient fears.

“In reality, the quality of the information that patients find to be useful may not be accurate or may even contradict the treating physician's plan and experience,” said Brian C. Werner, MD, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “We need to do a better job of directing patients to appropriate websites for orthopaedic information.” In the study, nearly 1,300 questionnaires were distributed to patients at outpatient orthopaedic clinics. The survey questions pertained to patient Internet use, outcomes, and basic demographic information including age, gender, and clinic type. Eighty-five percent of the patients (average age 50.3 years, 57 percent female) reported they had access to the Internet, and 64.7 percent of them use it to search for orthopaedic information. Among those patients, more than 80 percent said they use an online search engine to locate information; 43 percent—particularly men and younger patients—find that information “very useful” and 56.3 percent find it “somewhat useful.” Only .6 percent said it was “not useful at all.” Overall, only 33.7 percent of patients who researched their current orthopaedic condition or symptoms accessed information from their doctor's institutional website, and just 47.6 percent said they planned to discuss the information that they found online with their physician. The AAOS offers several websites with up-to-date information for patients in a variety of formats. OrthoInfo.org provides patient information on hundreds of orthopaedic diseases and conditions. ANationinMotion.org features inspirational patient stories and orthopaedic surgeon tips on maintaining bone and joint health, avoiding injuries, treating musculoskeletal conditions, and navigating recovery. OrthoInfo.org provides patient information on hundreds of orthopaedic diseases and conditions, and Newsroom.aaos.org for free member materials to use with patients, bone and joint health news, statistics, facts, and images. “Reputable sites should be visibly promoted in orthopaedic offices and a regular part of patient discussions on conditions, treatments, and recovery,” said Dr. Werner. Physicians should refer patients directly to peer-reviewed sites, and/or their medical institution or practice websites. Orthopaedic surgeons are encouraged to link to available AAOS resources, including videos and articles, on their websites. In addition, the Academy's social media sites—Facebook.com/AAOS1 and Twitter.com/AAOS1—highlight orthopaedic news and trending topics. Finally, orthopaedic surgeons or practice administrators should follow appropriate influencers like AAOS, medical schools, health publications, and health reporters on social media to stay abreast of musculoskeletal topics and dialogue that may be trending in the media and to generate more traffic to, and greater hierarchy for, reputable sites of orthopaedic information.                        Alan S. Hilibrand, MD, chairs the AAOS Communications Cabinet.