Millions of people in the United States regularly use the internet as a source of health information, including people with diabetes. While there are some excellent sources of diabetes information on the internet (hint: you’re reading one right now), a few researchers are concerned that particularly on certain diabetes-related topics, many websites fall short of being helpful.
This is particularly true when it comes to diabetic retinopathy — a potential complication of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes that affects nearly all people with type 1 diabetes after decades of living with the disease. Retinopathy involves damage and changes to blood vessels in your retina, the light-sensitive membrane at the back of your eye.
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For a new study published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers looked at 11 different popular websites that provide information on diabetic retinopathy, assessing them for accuracy and complexity. (DiabetesSelfManagement.com was not one of them.) Based on questions that patients frequently ask their doctors about diabetic retinopathy, the researchers came up with 26 questions and scored each website by how well they answered each one.
The scoring was done by three vitreoretinal surgeons or surgery fellows, each of whom assigned each website a score of 0 to 4 for each question. A score of 0 meant no information on the topic, while 1 point was given for inaccurate, unclear or disorganized answers. A score of 2 was given for a partially complete answer, 3 was given for a mostly complete and focused answer, and 4 was given for an accurate, clear and thorough answer. The scorers agreed with each other 83% to 87% of the time, and their scores for each website were averaged to come up with the study’s results.
Out of 104 possible points, the average score among the 11 websites was 55.76. The top-scoring website was Wikipedia, which received 76.67 points. WebMD was the lowest-scoring website, receiving 33 points. The researchers found no correlation between a website’s Google search rank and the quality of its content.
Overall, the researchers found that information about diabetic retinopathy tended to be either inaccurate, too simplistic to be helpful or too complex to be easily understood by most readers, concluding that “most websites reviewed did not provide sufficient information to support the patient in making medical decisions.” This means, they write, that it’s especially important for doctors to have accurate, understandable answers ready for questions that patients ask about diabetic retinopathy.
Want to learn more about maintaining your vision? Read “Eating for Better Vision and Healthy Eyes,” “Keep an Eye on Your Vision,” “Foods for Healthy Eyes” and “Diabetes and Your Eyes — More Than Retinopathy.”
A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.