Introduction: As Internet access and use of the World Wide Web is increasing, patients are using search engines to research all aspects of medicine. Unfortunately, the information on the Internet is unregulated and open to manipulation by sponsorship and preferential placement of entries. The aim of our study was to examine the ease with which evidence based, non-commercial data could be found.
Method: We chose the titles; “Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery” (OMFS) and a range of diagnoses or procedures including oral cancer, orthognathic surgery, facial surgery, wisdom teeth and Botox to search in GOOGLE, YAHOO and BING.
Results: We found that for “OMFS”, 63% of the sponsored and popularly accessed sites were produced by professional bodies or institutions. 44% were miscellaneous. When examining entries for significant diagnoses such as oral cancer we found a similarly high proportion of good quality information. However, as we examined other less significant but more commercially attractive subjects it became difficult to find any non-commercial information. For example “dental implants” yielded 90% of entries from commercial concerns. Wikipedia figured in all searches.
Conclusion: The results show the variability of the information available which may be difficult for patients to interpret. In our presentation we provide a comprehensive analysis of our data and highlight the good quality websites which frequently appear, such as BAOMS. We also suggest ways in which patients could be helped to effectively search the net in the face of sponsored links and confusing and contradictory information.
Conflict of interest: None declared.