Background: Websites on the Internet are used increasingly by patients and those caring for them as a source of medical information. This study investigated the nature and quality of the kidney transplant-related information currently available on the World Wide Web (WWW).
Methods: Four common search engines were used to explore the Internet using the keywords "kidney transplantation." Each website was assessed on the following categories: source, language, accessibility, presence of kitemarks, and quality/depth of information. Websites were scored independently by four transplant clinicians (two surgeons and two physicians), and a weighted Information Score (IS) was created to assess the overall clinical and educational value of the site.
Results: A total of 200 potential websites were identified of which 94 websites were suitable for scoring. The remaining 106 were repetitions or non-accessible links. The overall median weighted IS for the sites assessed was 21 (IQR 0-61). Median weighted IS of sites originating from Europe and USA were 47 (IQR = 21-61) and 45 (IQR = 15-61) respectively (p = 0.27). Websites belonging to academic institutions scored higher with a median weighted IS of 49 (IQR = 20-61) when compared with kitemarked websites (median 21, IQR = 5-45, p = 0.01). However, there was no statistically significant difference in weighted IS of kitemarked, professional (median 22, IQR = 2-53), commercial (median 20, IQR = 0-45), and individual websites (median 9, IQR 3-12). There was a good agreement between the observers who scored the websites with an intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) of 0.79 and an associated 95% CI (0.73-0.90) for the four observers on the 94 websites.
Conclusion: The educational material currently available on the WWW about kidney transplantation is often of poor quality and more input is required from transplant clinicians. Quality seals in the form of kitemarks may give a false sense of security. The gaps in validity and accuracy of the information available on complex topics such as kidney transplantation should be filled; otherwise poor quality information will continue to be the norm rather than the exception.