A recent study determined that online information pertaining to glaucoma was of relatively low quality and reliability. Photo: Getty Images.

The rapid development of the Internet has made it easy for the public to search for answers to their health-related questions. However, these users could receive low quality or misleading information because the search algorithms may rank websites by number of website visits. While there has been some variability in search interest within this three-year period, there has been an overall steady increase in popularity of glaucoma and glaucoma-related topics on Google since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study in Ophthalmology Glaucoma determined that online information pertaining to glaucoma was of relatively low quality and reliability. The researchers noted that most websites on glaucoma required an 11th grade reading level or above.

The study reviewed the technical quality of the presentation of information and readability of 150 informational websites that publish content on the definition, causes, symptoms and/or treatment of glaucoma. The websites were chosen based on the top 150 websites from a Google search that used the keywords “glaucoma,” “high intraocular pressure” and “high eye pressure.” Websites were further categorized into institutional or private websites. Of the total 150 websites, 26% and 74% were from institutional and private sources, respectively.

Two independent reviewers assessed the quality and reliability of each website using the DISCERN, HONcode and JAMA criteria. The two had moderate to excellent interrater reliability.

Readability was poor amongst all websites, with most websites requiring above an 11th grade reading level. The researchers believed that it is widely recommended that the readability of patient education materials should be at a sixth to eighth grade reading level. They suggested that this higher reading level, in turn, may pose a risk for patients to fall victim to incomplete or unrecognizable health information.

The overall mean DISCERN score (range: one to five) was 3.0, mean HONcode (range: zero to 16) score was 9.6 and mean JAMA (range: one to five)  score was 2.1. Institutional websites had a higher mean DISCERN score (3.18 vs. 2.95) and mean HONcode score (10.18 vs. 9.34) when compared with private websites. The study also found that technical quality was higher amongst institutional websites.

It is crucial that medical societies, physicians and patients are aware of these limitations.

“While the Internet can be a useful tool, patients must approach the information presented with discretion, particularly with regards to health information,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “Publishers of medical information are encouraged to review their online content and ensure that the information they present meets standards and improves the online medical landscape for glaucoma patients.”

Shah R, Mahajan J, Oydanich M, Khouri AS. A comprehensive evaluation of the quality, readability and technical quality of online information on glaucoma. Ophthalmol Glaucoma. August 5, 2022. [Epub ahead of print].