Partial Nephrectomy Online: A Preliminary Evaluation of the Quality of Health Information on the Internet


The report by Fast and colleagues presents a sobering, if preliminary, analysis on the current state of information available in the English Language from North America, the UK and Oceania regarding a procedure that is still underutilized [1, 2] and whose consequences of underutilization may be significant [3-5].

Depressingly, the quality of information available on academic websites was no better than that available on commercially driven sites. Although the authors did not analyze this further, it is probable that a significant amount of the ‘information’ on academic sites is tied in to a promotion of hospital-based technological platforms, as opposed to providing the potential patient/and or family member with well sourced and unbiased information.

Where does that leave us? Is it even the responsibility of a surgeon or the mission of a non-profit academic organization to provide responsible and unbiased content to a patient? Or should this be under the rubric of professional organizations or public health agencies? Obviously, there are no correct answers because the regulatory environment may be vastly different depending on the location; however, is there an ethical answer? Addressing this question, the report by Fast and colleagues provides a troubling preamble concerning attempts to find an answer, and it would appear reasonable for academic centres to voluntarily aim to improve the standards of information available for prospective patients; a move that is not only ethically sound, but also may drive (the sought after) discerning and educated patient to the practice or facility.

Most importantly, the report by Fast and colleagues provides a clarion call for further investigation and for urgent and much needed discussion regarding the quality of information that academic institutions and surgeons are providing patients, as well as the need to acknowledge and (whenever possible) disengage the material from inherently conflicting commercially driven information.