Intended for healthcare professionals


The quality of health information on the internet

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 09 March 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:557

As for any other medium it varies widely; regulation is not the answer

  1. Gretchen P Purcell (, assistant research professor,
  2. Petra Wilson (, scientific officer,
  3. Tony Delamothe (, web editor
  1. Surgery and Clinical Informatics, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA
  2. Directorate General for the Information Society (Applications relating to Health), European Commission, 1049 Brussels, Belgium

    This week's theme issue attempts to provide a framework for thinking about the quality of health information on the internet—a source of anxiety almost since its first appearance.

    Five years ago Impicciatore and colleagues reviewed website advice on managing fever in children and concluded that it varied widely in terms of accuracy, completeness, and consistency.1 Pick any medical problem today, and the chances are you'll find the same. With at least 80 studies reporting similar findings (G Eysenbach, personal communication), we need no more convincing that the quality of information on the web varies as widely as it does in other media.

    In 1997 Gagliardi and Jadad identified 47 instruments for measuring healthcare quality on the internet. Four years later, they found another 51—all of them unvalidated (p 569).2 Generating yet more unproved instruments looks like another activity that researchers could usefully stop. However, the proliferation of tools for assessing quality continues unabated, fuelled by anxieties about patient harm. As our international roundup shows (pp 566-7), countries now seem poised to get in on the act, although little beyond urban myths exists to justify the level of their concerns. …

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