How much online information about radiation exposure is accurate?

Approximately one-third of the information available online about CT radiation exposure is not completely accurate, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

The authors typed in 14 search terms related to CT dose into Google (“CT benefit,” “CT radiation,” “CT radiation” and so on) and analyzed the first 100 pages that popped up for each term. Sites were labeled “completely accurate,” “somewhat accurate” or “inaccurate.” Overall, the team found that 67 percent of pages were completely accurate.

Also, peer-reviewed journals, government sites and educational sites contained the most accurate information. Discussion forums had the most inaccurate information.

Why is this information’s accuracy so important? The authors explained that reading false information doesn’t just impact what a patient thinks; it can also play a role in what a patient does.

“How a patient is exposed to health-related information could affect that patient’s perceptions and decision making,” wrote Karl James, RCSI, Cork University Hospital in Cork, Ireland, and colleagues. “The most commonly reported application of the Internet for health has been content or information seeking. Online sources are unregulated and unfiltered and may be unreliable; such misinformation can lead to confusion in decision making. The growing diversity of the online health information community is increasingly cited as a limiting factor to the Internet realizing its potential as an effective health communication channel and information resource.”

The authors also observed that American Medical Association (AMA) recommendations aren’t always followed when it comes to patient resources. “The AMA recommends that patient education materials be written at or below the sixth-grade level,” the authors wrote. “Much of the dedicated patient education resources available regarding medical imaging are written at a comprehension level well above that of an average Internet user, meaning the most accurate information is often not the most readable.”

Clinicians can improve patient care, James et al. concluded, by helping direct patients to online sources considered “relevant, credible, and trustworthy.” This helps put patients and their providers on the same page, improving decision making and making it less likely that a patient inadvertently do harm by following bad advice.