I have spent the last 12 years leveraging online health information to educate doctors and patients about disease. Of late I have become concerned about the availability of health information (there is a lot of it) and the quality of that health information (less than you would think).
Before we even debate what content is good or not, we need a definition of what quality health information is. The purpose of quality health content is to help individuals and their caregivers make informed and knowledgable decisions about their health. To that end, I believe ALL health content should have the following characteristics.
- Its Accurate. Accuracy means the information is based on sound science. The information should be sourced so the reader can review the supporting evidence for the claims being made in the information.
- Its Authoritative. Authoritative content is written and reviewed by experts in the field the content is about and uses citations to source the literature supporting the medical content. To simplify the concept quality health information is supported by clinical data and written by people who know what they are talking about.
- Its Trustworthy. The best means of guaging a publishers trustworthiness is to see if they abide by widely accepted standards for health websites such as the HON code or URAC’s principles for health information. These standards require publishers to be thoughtful about issues surrounding privacy protection, advertising policies, editorial board engagement, accuracy and editorial controls.
- Its Comprehensive. As publishers, we have responsibility to provide in depth coverage of the diseases we write about. I believe strongly that providers of health information must present deep and knowledgable information to their readers. Are we effectively answering the queries that bring patient’s to us? Do we provide a learning pathway for them to pursue further queries brought about by their reading?
- Its Balanced. While evidence-based medicine should be a core driver of our health information, in many fields a consensus has not emerged. In fact for many conditions, you will find a wide variety of physician opinions on an appropriate standard of care. As a quality source of health information, publishers should offer views on multiple treatment paradigms with the available evidence to back it up. BUT if the evidence proves otherwise, we have an obligation to inform our readers.
- Its Timely. The pace of change in healthcare can be dizzying. Health information providers need to keep up with these advances educating patients on the technologies and therapies shaping tomorrow’s care. We have an obligation to share the latest, most accurate and scientifically sound information on the diseases we are writing about.
- Its Relevant. Whether a patient or a clinician each individual beings their health information search with a query in mind. As a health information provider we have a responsibility to deliver the right content to the right person. And provide appropriate information pathways relevant to each individuals particular situation.
- Its Free of Bias. This means the person writing or funding the information has no financial interest in the content. It means the publisher, if supported by advertisers, has clear and appropriate policies governing commercial influence of its content.
If you did an audit of the millions of websites with health content, how many of them would have content that was authoritative, trustworthy, comprehensive, balanced, timely, relevant and free from bias. I would guess not many. Creating high quality health information is hard and costly, but in todays healthcare environment integral to patient empowerment and improved outcomes.
What do you think makes quality health content? Can industry create high quality content free from commercial bias? I would love your thoughts.