Quality of Internet information in pediatric otolaryngology: a comparison of three most referenced websites

Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2012 Sep;76(9):1312-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ijporl.2012.05.026. Epub 2012 Jul 7.


Objective: Patients commonly refer to Internet health-related information. To date, no quantitative comparison of the accuracy and readability of common diagnoses in Pediatric Otolaryngology exist.

Study aims: (1) identify the three most frequently referenced Internet sources; (2) compare the content accuracy and (3) ascertain user-friendliness of each site; (4) inform practitioners and patients of the quality of available information.

Methods: Twenty-four diagnoses in pediatric otolaryngology were entered in Google and the top five URLs for each were ranked. Articles were accessed for each topic in the three most frequently referenced sites. Standard rubrics were developed to include proprietary scores for content, errors, navigability, and validated metrics of readability.

Results: Wikipedia, eMedicine, and NLM/NIH MedlinePlus were the most referenced sources. For content accuracy, eMedicine scored highest (84%; p<0.05) over MedlinePlus (49%) and Wikipedia (46%). The highest incidence of errors and omissions per article was found in Wikipedia (0.98±0.19), twice more than eMedicine (0.42±0.19; p<0.05). Errors were similar between MedlinePlus and both eMedicine and Wikipedia. On ratings for user interface, which incorporated Flesch-Kinkaid Reading Level and Flesch Reading Ease, MedlinePlus was the most user-friendly (4.3±0.29). This was nearly twice that of eMedicine (2.4±0.26) and slightly greater than Wikipedia (3.7±0.3). All differences were significant (p<0.05). There were 7 topics for which articles were not available on MedlinePlus.

Conclusions: Knowledge of the quality of available information on the Internet improves pediatric otolaryngologists' ability to counsel parents. The top web search results for pediatric otolaryngology diagnoses are Wikipedia, MedlinePlus, and eMedicine. Online information varies in quality, with a 46-84% concordance with current textbooks. eMedicine has the most accurate, comprehensive content and fewest errors, but is more challenging to read and navigate. Both Wikipedia and MedlinePlus have lower content accuracy and more errors, however MedlinePlus is simplest of all to read, at a 9th Grade level.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Comprehension
  • Consumer Health Information / standards*
  • Humans
  • Internet* / standards
  • MedlinePlus
  • National Library of Medicine (U.S.)
  • Otolaryngology
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Pediatrics
  • United States