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03-09-2012 | Legal medicine | Article

Online information lacking for UK patients wishing to choose their surgeon


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medwireNews: There is insufficient online information regarding consultant surgeons in the UK, report researchers, who suggest this needs to be addressed to allow patients to make informed choices about their healthcare.

The UK Department of Health initiated an electronic "Choose and Book" system in 2004 that allows patients a choice of place, date, and time of their first outpatient appointment, as well as a chance to choose between individual consultant-led teams, says the research team.

However, in a web-based study of available information on 200 consultant surgeons registered with the Royal College, Nick Caplan (Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK) and colleagues, found that websites lacked information on surgeons' involvement in teaching, research, and publications, as well as patient satisfaction, and how regularly sites were updated.

"In order for patients to make such a choice, it is essential that they have high-quality, comprehensive and easily accessible information about relevant consultants available to them, thus making their choice appropriately informed," they write, in BMJ Open.

While the team was able to identify websites relating to 97.0% of the surgeons, almost half (44.3%) did not state the last date that the website was updated, and of those that did, the majority (20.6%) were updated between 13 and 18 months previously.

The vast majority of websites (98.5%) gave details about the surgeons' qualifications, but less than half (43.8%) noted whether the surgeon was involved in teaching or had any teaching qualifications.

Mean patient satisfaction scores (1=poor; 4=excellent) were significantly higher among surgeons who were involved in teaching than those who were not, at 2.5 versus 2.1. However, surgeons involved in research had significantly lower patient satisfaction scores than those who were not, at 2.2 versus 2.6.

Half of the websites reviewed (50.1%) gave no information on patient satisfaction, and none presented any data on morbidity rates; however, mortality rates were mentioned on 2.6% of websites.

"Future research should examine differences in the availability of online information in other fields of medicine and identify mechanisms that can be introduced to improve consistency in information provision across the healthcare sector," conclude Caplan et al.

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Sarah Guy, medwireNews Reporter

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