Internationally, generic medicines are increasingly seen as a key strategy to reduce healthcare expenditure, therefore awareness and knowledge transfer regarding generic medicines are valid areas of research. Although the Internet is a frequently used source of medical information, the accuracy of material found online is variable. The aim of this study was to evaluate information provided on the Internet regarding generic medicines in terms of quality of information and readability.
Internet searches for information regarding generic medicine were completed, with a pre-defined search term, using the Google search engine, in five English-speaking geographical regions (US, UK, Ireland, Canada and Australia). Search results likely to be looked at by a searcher were collated and assessed for the quality of generic medicine-related information in the websites, using a novel customised Website Quality Assessment (WQA) tool; and for readability, using existing methods. The reproducibility of the tools between two independent reviewers was evaluated and correlations between WQA score, readability statistics and Google search engine results page ranking were assessed.
Wikipedia was the highest-ranking search result in 100% of searches performed. Considerable variability of search results returned between different geographical regions was observed, including that websites identified in the Australian search generated the highest number of country specific websites; searches performed using computers with Irish, British, American and Canadian IP addresses appear to be more similar to each other than the google.com search performed in Australia; and the Canadian google.ca results show a notable difference from any of the other searches. Of the 24 websites assessed, none scored a perfect WQA score. Notably, strong correlation was seen between WQA and readability scores and ranking on google.com search results.
This novel evaluation of websites providing information on generic medicines showed that, of the websites likely to be seen by a searcher, none demonstrated a combination of scoring highly on quality of information (as evinced by WQA score) and readability. Therefore, there is a gap in online knowledge provision on this topic which, if filled by a website designed using the WQA tool developed in this study, has an improved likelihood of ranking highly in google.com search results.