Online Information About the Effectiveness of Shoulder Surgery Is Not Based on the Best Available Evidence: A Content Analysis


      • Most online information about shoulder surgery is not evidence based.
      • Few webpages accurately portray the best available evidence for surgery.
      • Few webpages mention the possible harms of surgery and to avoid surgery if possible.
      • Most webpages mentioned alternatives to surgery and to delay surgery if possible.



      To summarize the proportion of consumer webpages on subacromial decompression and rotator cuff repair surgery that make an accurate portrayal of the evidence for these operations (primary outcome), mention the benefits and harms of surgery, outline alternatives to surgery, and make various surgical recommendations.


      Content analysis.


      Online consumer information about subacromial decompression and rotator cuff repair surgery. Webpages were identified through (1) Google searches using terms synonymous with “shoulder pain” and “shoulder surgery” and searching “orthopedic surgeon” linked to each Australian capital city and (2) websites of relevant professional associations (eg, Australian Orthopaedic Association). Two reviewers independently identified webpages and extracted data.


      Not applicable.


      Not applicable.

      Main Outcome Measures

      Whether the webpage made an accurate portrayal of the evidence for subacromial decompression or rotator cuff repair surgery (primary outcome), mentioned benefits and harms of surgery, outlined alternatives to surgery, and made various surgical recommendations (eg, delay surgery). Outcome data were summarized using counts and percentages.


      A total of 155 webpages were analyzed (n=89 on subacromial decompression, n=90 on rotator cuff repair, n=24 on both). Only 18% (n=16) and 4% (n=4) of webpages made an accurate portrayal of the evidence for subacromial decompression and rotator cuff repair surgery, respectively. For subacromial decompression and rotator cuff repair, respectively, 85% (n=76) and 80% (n=72) of webpages mentioned benefits, 38% (n=34) and 47% (n=42) mentioned harms, 94% (n=84) and 92% (n=83) provided alternatives to surgery, and 63% (n=56) and 62% (n=56) recommended delayed surgery (the most common recommendation).


      Most online information about subacromial decompression and rotator cuff repair surgery does not accurately portray the best available evidence for surgery and may be inadequate to inform patient decision making.


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