Research Topic

Dimensions of Health Information Quality

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Millions of people use the Internet and mobile phones to find health-related information for themselves or for others they care for. They are motivated by many factors: to make an early diagnosis, find a cure or research a treatment, understand more about disease prevention, purchase a drug or research ...

Millions of people use the Internet and mobile phones to find health-related information for themselves or for others they care for. They are motivated by many factors: to make an early diagnosis, find a cure or research a treatment, understand more about disease prevention, purchase a drug or research possible side effects, to find and/or evaluate a potential physician or therapist or simply to seek practical or emotional guidance and support. It is not only patients who turn first to the Internet. Healthcare professionals are also increasingly using it to support diagnosis and find latest evidence, while medical students will often turn to Google before looking at their textbooks or before using the professional search engines (Google Scholar, Pubmed, Web of Science, etc.). They typically use a wide range of search engines or web portals, blogs, or social networking websites. Finally, public health professionals will also use web-based information and social media channels to learn about public response to a disease or epidemic and systems such as Google search flu trends or the website patientslikeme has been used to introduce changes in health policy and practice.

However, healthcare information online and on social media is often not evidence-based and the quality significantly varies - sometimes even false rumours could be spread deliberately by, for example, anti-vaccination groups. There have been attempts to monitor and safeguard quality of health information on the Internet, for examples the Health on Net Foundation (HoN), and a number of different criteria have been developed to assess the quality of health information on the web. Many of the existing instruments explore the trustworthiness of websites, but even here, trust is not predicated solely on issues of expertise or source credibility, but is often influenced by the extent to which the information seems palatable to the user or is written by people who share similar experiences. Information quality on the Internet and social media is a complex issue. Traditionally “official” sources of information and advice can be challenged by individuals or groups with a particular health agenda and influence citizens to change their behaviour, such as take unnecessary treatment or resist vaccination.

We welcome contributions addressing issues of Internet healthcare information quality using quantitative and qualitative methods, ranging from social science, psychology methods to computer science “big data” approaches with the aim to understand how to make evidence-based healthcare information more easily disseminated on the Internet and social media.


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