Inconsistent Consultant Websites Could Try Patients’ Patience

Photo: Finger on computer

Standardisation of the information
available to patients online
should help them make choices
about their healthcare;
© Arcurs

A study that evaluated the websites relating to individual consultant orthopaedic surgeons found that half of them failed to provide information about patient satisfaction or the surgeon’s involvement in teaching or research, while less than 3percent presented mortality rates and none gave an indication of morbidity rates. Researchers identified a need for greater standardisation of the information available to patients online to help them make choices about their healthcare.

The findings come as the National Health Service’s ‘Choose and Book’ online scheme, which allows patients to select the location and time of hospital appointments, has been extended to include the option for patients to select a specific consultant to carry out any necessary treatment. The aim of the study was to examine whether the information available online was comprehensive enough for patients to make an informed decision of who they would like to treat them.

In the study, which is the first comprehensive analysis of the availability of web-based information relating to consultant surgeons in any field of medicine, the websites of 200 consultant orthopaedic surgeons across the north of England were evaluated using a bespoke template that took into account recommendations of the 2010 UK Government white paper about the information that patients should have access to.

Researchers found that although the majority of the websites were accessible, there were questions around who had written the information and how frequently the information had been updated. Only a small number of websites reported death rate and none reported morbidity rates – the incidence of complications related to orthopaedic procedures.

Only half of the websites analysed gave any indication of whether the surgeon was involved in teaching-related activities. Previous studies have indicated that some patients would not want to be referred to a teaching consultant as any treatment or procedure may be carried out by a junior clinician under the consultant’s supervision. On the other hand, there is evidence that consultants involved in teaching are more likely to remain up-to-date with current medical knowledge.

About half of the websites provided details of any research the consultant had been or was currently engaged in. Involvement in research would indicate to patients that the consultant was keeping up-to-date with new medical knowledge and advances, thus ensuring the best possible, available treatment.

Just under half of the websites did not publish any information on patient satisfaction with the care they had received.; Source: Northumbria University