A study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgery found that unsponsored Web sites typically provided more reliable surgery-related information than sponsored sites, Reuters reports.
For the study, University of California-Los Angeles researchers looked at 145 Web sites -- 90 unsponsored sites and 55 sponsored sites -- they found by doing a Google search for several types of surgery, such as gastric bypass and gallbladder removal.
In exchange for payment, search engines list sponsored sites separate from other search results. Sponsored sites are ordered based on how much the advertiser paid and how often users click on the link.
The researchers evaluated the sites based on certain criteria, such as:
- How accurately the risks and benefits of a procedure are explained;
- Whether the information was up to date; and
- Whether advertising was limited on the site.
According to the study, unsponsored Web sites scored twice as high in quality than sponsored Web sites.
Web sites run by professional medical societies or by the government were unsponsored and generally had the most reliable information, the study found.
Meanwhile, the researchers found that Web sites representing advertisers or law firms had the poorest quality information.
According to Reuters, the study's findings highlight the importance for consumers to consider the source when searching for medical information online.
The researchers urged consumers to use reliable sources, such as professional medical societies, when searching for surgery information online. They added that using technical medical terms will yield fewer sponsored Web sites in search engine results (Reuters, 10/22).