Can Patients Trust Online Health Information? Addressing the Quality of Health Information on the Internet

2 July, 2019

Below are the citation and abstract of a new paper in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The full text is unfortunately restricted-access.

The title is misleading as it asks the question "Can patients trust online health information?" which is a different question to that being addressed: "What is the overall quality of online health information?" Nevertheless the findings are of interest. The fact that 18% of websites were HON code certified is actually quite encouraging - I continue to hold that the HON code (Health On The Net Foundation) is an important approach that is underfunded and hence underused.

CITATION: J Gen Intern Med. 2019 Jun 21. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-05109-0.

Can Patients Trust Online Health Information? A Meta-narrative Systematic Review Addressing the Quality of Health Information on the Internet.

Daraz L1, Morrow AS2, Ponce OJ2, Beuschel B2, Farah MH2, Katabi A2, Alsawas M2, Majzoub AM2, Benkhadra R3, Seisa MO2, Ding JF2, Prokop L4, Murad MH2.

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The Internet has become a leading source of health information accessed by patients and the general public. It is crucial that this information is reliable and accurate.

OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this systematic review was to evaluate the overall quality of online health information targeting patients and the general public.

METHODS: The systematic review is based on a pre-established protocol and is reported according to the PRISMA statement. Eleven databases and Internet searches were performed for relevant studies. Descriptive statistics were used to synthesize data. The NIH Quality Assessment Tool for Observational Cohort and Cross-Sectional Studies was used to assess the methodological quality of the included studies.

RESULTS: Out of 3393 references, we included 153 cross-sectional studies evaluating 11,785 websites using 14 quality assessment tools. The quality level varied across scales. Using DISCERN, none of the websites received a category of excellent in quality, 37-79% were rated as good, and the rest were rated as poor quality. Only 18% of websites were HON Code certified. Quality varied by affiliation (governmental was higher than academic, which was higher than other media sources) and by health specialty (likely higher in internal medicine and anesthesiology).

CONCLUSION: This comprehensive systematic review demonstrated suboptimal quality of online health information. Therefore, the Internet at the present time does not provide reliable health information for laypersons. The quality of online health information requires significant improvement which should be a mandate for policymakers and private and public organizations.

--

Best wishes, Neil

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org