Posted in #HCSM

How Do Consumers Evaluate the Quality of Online Health Information?

A new study* has set out to identify criteria that consumers use to evaluate the quality of online health information, and the indicators they use to support their evaluation.

Criteria and Indicators Used To Evaluate Online Health Information

The study reports that the most widely reported criteria used by consumers were (1)  trustworthiness, (2) expertise, and (3) objectivity, followed by transparency, popularity, and understandability.

The indicators were related to (1) source (a website or the owner, creator, or sponsor of the site), (2) content, and (3) design. The most widely reported indicators were site owners/sponsors; consensus among multiple sources; characteristics of writing and language; advertisements; content authorship; and interface design.

(1) Source

Mixed attitudes were found toward some indicators representing site owners/sponsors. Firstly, most participants believed that government websites reflect high levels of expertise and good intentions; however, some consumers suspected that the information on government websites is biased due to their agendas and some, particularly younger generations, did not identify themselves with government sources, considering them “less cool” and not relatable

Secondly, people usually considered websites owned by commercial companies less objective and trusted more websites with no commercial interests; nevertheless, popular commercial websites such as WebMD.com were favored by some people for their expertise and comprehensiveness.

Individuals’ prior knowledge and experience of a source were mentioned most frequently as factors that influence quality judgment. Consumers tended to trust sites that they had experience with, because they may already know the source to be credible, have had positive experiences with it, have seen it from advertisements on other media (eg, television and magazine), or are familiar with the organization behind the source.

Trust in Social Media

Consumers had mixed attitudes toward social media sites. Some consumers favored online discussion groups, chat rooms, and listservs because they offered first-person narratives and practical information and support from peers with whom they could identify, but some disliked such sites for their lack of objectivity and expertise.

Concerning Wikipedia, some people questioned its objectivity because information can be edited by anyone on the Web, but some consumers were attracted to its encyclopedic nature and comprehensiveness.

2. Content

Content refers to the information contained in a source as well as the presentation of the information. Eight categories of content-related indicators were identified: substance, writing and language, presentation, references, authorship, audience, date/updating, and advertisements.

The most frequently reported content indicators were about consensus among sources. Content that appears in multiple sources, be it online sources, sources in other media (eg, newspaper, television, books, and academic journals), or health care professionals, is trusted by consumers.

Writing- and language-related factors were the second most frequently reported content indicators. Consumers expect high-quality information to be error-free in spelling and grammar, use straightforward language, and have a clear layout. The use of medical and technical vocabularies had mixed views. For some consumers, high-quality information was easy to understand, that is, it exhibited less use of professional medical vocabularies or provided easy-to-understand definitions of medical jargon; however, for others, the use of technical vocabularies demonstrated expertise and was highly valued

The third most frequently reported indicators were advertisements. Consumers expect quality websites to neither depend on advertisements nor seek to make a profit. Therefore, sites with advertisements were considered less objective.

3. Design

Design refers to the appearance of a website or an app and the user experience (UX) it gives. Four categories of design-related quality indicators were identified: interface design, interaction design, navigation design, and security settings.

The most frequently reported design indicators were related to interface design, mostly visual factors, including the overall appearance of a site, the graphics it includes, and font size.

Interaction design features, including links, interactive functions, and other interactive features (eg, loading time and login requirement), were the second most frequently mentioned quality indicators.

Sites with robust search capabilities (eg, easy to locate and diverse search entrance), offering useful tools (eg, self-management tools), and rendering smooth user-system interaction (eg, providing links to additional relevant sources and not having pop-ups) were perceived as high quality.

Navigation-related indicators such as navigation aids and site maps were the third most frequently mentioned quality indicators.

Key Takeaway For Healthcare Marketers and HCPs

The ability to critically evaluate the quality of health information is an important component of health literacy which is an important determinant of health.

The findings of this study have practical application for designers of online health information for patients. The authors recommend the incorporation of positive indicators (eg, offering authors’ credentials and presenting information in a clear and organized way) and avoidance of negative indicators (eg, dead links and flash media format) to offer users better information seeking experiences.

The fact that the same indicator (eg, government institutions as the source owner) can lead to different quality judgment for different people suggests that designers should also carefully investigate target users’ values and the corresponding criteria that they use to evaluate health information. This calls for active user research and user involvement in the design process.

Related Reading 

Digital Health Checkup: 10 Signs It’s Time To Redesign Your Medical Practice Website 

Evaluating the Quality of Health Information in a Changing Digital Ecosystem

Do Online Health Seekers Trust Social Media? Surprising Results From A New Survey 

What Information Are Parents of Children with Cancer Looking For Online?


* Sun Y, Zhang Y, Gwizdka J, Trace CB, Consumer Evaluation of the Quality of Online Health Information: Systematic Literature Review of Relevant Criteria and Indicators
J Med Internet Res 2019;21(5):e12522
Posted in Health Literacy

What Causes Health Information Disparity?

Google-Search1A growing number of people are seeking health information on the Internet. To meet demands, healthcare providers are increasingly disseminating information online. While online health information has enhanced the dissemination of health information and improved people’s health-related knowledge, critics posit that such dissemination has widened knowledge disparities in health information and health benefits as a result.

Are we in effect creating another level in our two tier health system – the digitally savvy, information rich haves and the have-nots? What factors increase this disparity? A study by the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Oklahoma set out to answer this question. The result published Dec 27, 2013, show that education lies at the heart of the disparity and impacted other elements such as health literacy and computer self-efficacy.  What is most interesting is the finding that although an individual may possess high levels of computer self-efficacy, this does not correlate with health benefits. What this means is that access to a computer and knowing how to use it, does not impact on health information disparity; but knowing how to search for health information and what to do with that information does.

Ref: Yong-Mi Kim, J. Info. Know. Mgmt., 12, 1350032 (2013) [10 pages] DOI: 10.1142/S0219649213500329

Posted in #HCSM

Why Doctors Should Participate In Twitter Chats

Dr Matthew Katz, a community-based doctor dedicated to improving cancer care and health empowerment, was the guest on the latest  #HCHLITSS  Twitter chat. For those who may be unfamiliar with the phenomenon of a tweet chat – it is a pre-arranged chat that happens on Twitter through the use of updates called tweets. It includes a predefined #hashtag which links the tweets together in a virtual conversation. The #HCHLITSS acronym stands for Health Communication Health Literacy & Social Science, Of particular interest to me during the stimulating chat was Dr Katz’s view of what physicians and other healthcare providers can learn from participating in Twitter chats. According to Dr Katz, it is a way to listen in on patient concerns.

In fact so passionate is Dr Katz on the topic of healthcare social media that he believes it is a doctor’s moral obligation to add their voices and expertise to the discussions happening online.

In this Dr Katz echoes the words of Farris Timimi, M.D., medical director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social  Media.

These [social media] tools help us reach so many more people; we can bring shared interactions into our practice and that is powerful … This isn’t an addition to your job. This is part of your job.  This is a conversation, and that is what we are trained to do … This is where our patients are these days and this is where we need to reach them. We can engage learners, patients and peers, and we are not limited by geography or time –

Social media is a radical shift in the way we communicate. The healthcare conversation is no longer a one-way narrative but is evolving into a global, participatory discussion. One of the most powerful ways I see this happening is in the modality of the tweet chat. The role Twitter plays in breaking down patient/provider barriers, disseminating and expanding the reach of healthcare information, widening social networks and co-creating a collaborative model of shared health information is for me one of the most exciting developments in social media. In the words of chat participant Elin Silveous, it represents:

Posted in #HCSM, #hcsmbm

How Healthcare Professionals Can Improve Online Health Literacy

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Our next  HCSM Buddy Mentoring Twitter chat (#hcsmbm) takes place this Wednesday at 6 pm GMT (12pm CT, 10am PT, 1 pm ET).

Quick Reminder…

#Hcsmbm is about developing  a buddy mentoring system to help those who are in need of assistance to navigate social media sites for healthcare information.

Margaret Whitehead in the early 1990s wrote that:

Equity in health implies that ideally everyone should have a fair opportunity to attain their full health potential and, more pragmatically, that no one should be disadvantaged from achieving this potential, if it can be avoided.*

We believe this now extends to access to online healthcare information and support.

We are grateful to Randy Chalfant  for providing the inspiration for this week’s chat, which will focus on how we can engage doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals (HCPs) in the discussion.

Randy points out that we all have individual needs when it comes to healthcare information, so this will be the point of focus of our first topic.

T1 How do we assess what a patient needs in terms of online healthcare information and support?

Health literacy is defined as the cognitive and social skills that determine a person’s motivation and ability to access, understand and use information in ways that maintain or enhance health. So our next topic for discussion will focus on motivation.

T2 How do we motivate patients to take an active role in their healthcare?

T3 How do we motivate HCPs to partner with patients in achieving their healthcare goals?

We will finish our discussion with some brainstorming.

T4 How can we help patients to access, understand and use online healthcare information and support to attain their full health potential.

We hope you will join us for this unique Twitter chat (hashtag #hcsmbm) and help us brainstorm ideas to get a HCSM Buddy Mentoring system off the ground.

Marie (@JBBC), Vanessa (@Irl4Livestrong),  Patty (@topsurf), Shu (@shumilne)

*Ref:  HEALTH DISPARITIES AND HEALTH EQUITY: Concepts and Measurement Annual Review of Public Health Vol. 27: 167-194

Posted in #HCSM, #hcsmbm

Brainstorming Health Care Social Media Buddy Mentoring #hcsmbm

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I am excited to let you know about a Twitter chat on the topic of health care social media mentoring which is happening this Wednesday at 6 pm GMT (12 CST 11 ET 9 PST).

This week’s chat is intended primarily to be a brainstorming session to gauge the level of interest in developing a buddy mentoring system to help those who are in need of assistance to navigate social media sites for healthcare information.

To date suggestions have included:

  • a mentoring tweetchat (reverse of the traditional tweetchat where a moderator asks the specific questions), have those who need help with navigating sm sites ask the mentors in the chat questions.

  • Use tools such as google hangouts to share screens and help those ‘sm buddies’ learn the basics of twitter – to search hashtags, compile lists, advanced search and who to follow for their specific benefit and other sm sites.

It is hoped that Wednesday’s brainstorming Twitter chat will bring many more creative ideas  to the table.

The following are suggested points of conversation to get us started.

T1 What developmental opportunities would you like to see in a social media buddy mentoring system?

T2 Would a mentoring group on specific social media sites work to answer questions on demand?

T3 Would healthcare professionals be involved?

If you have any suggestions for further topics to include please leave a comment below.

We hope you will join us for this unique Twitter chat (hashtag #hcsmbm) and help us brainstorm ideas to get a HCSM Buddy Mentoring system off the ground.

Marie (@JBBC), Vanessa (@Irl4Livestrong),  Patty (@topsurf), Shu (@shumilne)