How to find the good and avoid the bad or ugly: a short guide to tools for rating quality of health information on the internetCommentary: On the way to quality

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7337.598 (Published 9 March 2002)
Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:598

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How to find the good and avoid the bad or ugly: a short guide to tools for rating quality of health information on the internet

  1. Petra Wilson (petra.wilson@cec.eu.int), scientific officer
  1. Directorate General for the Information Society (Applications relating to Health), European Commission, 1049 Brussels, Belgium
  2. 3 Adelaide Crescent, Brighton BN3 2JD
  • Accepted 21 January 2002

Health related websites are frequently accessed on the internet. A poll in August 2001 concluded that almost 100 million American adults regularly go on line for information about health care.1 As over 100 000 sites offer health related information, “trying to get information from the internet is like drinking from a fire hose, you don't even know what the source of the water is.” 2 3

To help users discriminate between sites, a wide range of organisations have developed methods and tools for evaluating and rating the quality of websites. These tools aim to guide the site developers, filter content, and help consumers become discerning users of information.

A range of tools for rating quality exists, and their number has continued to grow since 1996 when the first initiatives produced codes of conduct for health information on the internet. 4 5 Some approaches focus on setting ethical standards and promoting the “good” whereas other more pragmatic approaches concentrate on sifting huge amounts of information into manageable chunks. Some approaches address general ethical principles about the nature of health related content whereas others focus on the mode of delivery and the integrity of the use of the web as a medium for the dissemination of information. I describe a classification of five types of approaches for rating the quality of English language websites (table). All start from the basic concept of an agreed set of criteria for good practice in the provision of health related information through websites.

Summary points

Health related websites are among the most widely used websites on the internet

A wide range of tools has been developed to assist site developers to produce good quality sites and for consumers to assess the quality of sites

These tools are classified into five broad categories: codes of conduct, quality labels, …

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