BACKGROUND: Because of the wealth of information available on the internet and increasing numbers of individuals relying on websites as a primary source of information for health-related questions, it is important that the readability of their content is within the comprehension level of most readers.
OBJECTIVE: The study evaluated the quality and readability of English-language Internet information for tinnitus.
RESEARCH DESIGN: Analysis of Internet websites on tinnitus.
STUDY SAMPLE: A total of 134 websites with tinnitus information.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three key words (i.e., tinnitus, ringing in the ear, and buzzing in the ear) were entered in five country-specific versions of the most commonly used internet search engine in August 2016. For each of the 15 searches, the first 20 relevant websites were examined. After removing duplicates, a total of 134 websites were assessed. Their origin (commercial, nonprofit organization, government, personal, or university), quality (Health On the Net [HON] certification and DISCERN scores), and readability (Flesch Reading Ease score, Flesch-Kincaid Reading Grade Level Formula, and Simple Measure of Gobbledygook) were assessed.
RESULTS: Most websites were of commercial (49.3%) or nonprofit organization (38.8%) origin. Their quality and readability was highly variable. Only 13.5% of websites had HON certification. χ² analysis showed that there was significant association between website origin and HON certification [χ²(4) = 132.9, p < 0.0001]. The mean DISCERN scores were 2.39. No association between DISCERN scores and website origin was found. Readability measures showed that on average, only people with at least 10-12 yr of education could read and understand the internet information for tinnitus in websites. Almost all the websites exceeded the most stringent reading level recommended for health information.
CONCLUSIONS: The results highlight great variability in the quality and readability of health information, specifically for tinnitus in the internet. These findings underscores the need for stakeholders (e.g., web-developers, clinicians) to be aware of this and to develop more user-friendly health information on websites to make it more accessible for people with low literacy.