A total of 113 million Americans searched for health information on the Internet in 2006, according to background information in the article, which is published in the Archives of Surgery. Of those, 29 percent searched for information on specific hospitals and physicians. Researchers at the David University of California, Los Angeles, performed a systematic Internet search to identify publicly available hospital quality comparison sites. Six sites were identified and rated on accessibility, transparency of the data and statistical calculations, appropriateness, consistency and timeliness. Of the six sites identified, one was government-run, two were non-profit, and three were private and proprietary.

“For accessibility and data transparency, the government and non-profit websites were best,” the authors write. “For appropriateness, the proprietary websites were best, comparing multiple surgical procedures using a combination of process, structure and outcome measures. However, none of these sites explicitly defined terms such as complications.” All data on the sites were at least one year old, and most were two or more years old.

To determine consistency, sample searches were conducted on the three proprietary websites comparing four Los Angeles–area hospitals on three common procedures. The searches demonstrated significant inconsistencies—for example, for colon removal, one hospital was ranked best by two sites but worst by the other site, and the hospital ranked best on that site was ranked worst on another.

“Further work is needed to improve these issues, particularly the accessibility by patients, the quality and type of data reporting, the statistical method and the criteria by which hospitals and specific operations are compared. It is probably important that surgeons be involved with the development of such reporting websites so that the comparisons accurately and appropriately reflect the quality of surgical care”, the authors write.

MEDICA.de; Source: JAMA and Archives Journals