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Trustworthiness of Online Health Information

By September 21, 2010Commentary

Research in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood looked at the accuracy of information about health issues available on the internet.   (Archives Article) The authors  took several common childhood conditions for which a parent might search online for health information.    Following a Google search, they rated the accuracy of the information found on the websites returned as results in the search.   The questions included what position a baby should sleep in, whether there is a link between vaccines and autism  and what to do if a baby has green vomit.

The sites located in the search were divided into government, educational, news, private company, sponsored link, interest group or individual.  The results were judged against current gold standard medical advice.  Overall, across all the websites, the questions were answered correctly about 78% of the time (disregarding sites that failed to actually answer the question; if those are included, the correct answer rate falls to 39%).  The percent of correct responses varied by question, with some being answered correctly as seldom as a little over half the time and some all the time.

Government websites gave the right answer all the time and educational and private company sites also had a high percent of correct answers.  News sites were accurate only half the time and sponsored links generally either didn’t answer the question or gave a wrong answer.  As more and more patients seek health information and even advice on the internet, ensuring the accuracy of information is important to avoid adverse events.  Perhaps websites need to be certified and patients need to be educated on how and where best to seek information.

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