Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


The quality of health information on the internet

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

Rapid Response:

Anxiety about quality and accuracy of medical information on the Internet will go down in the future

Accordingly with editorialists’ point of view (1) anxiety about
quality and accuracy of medical information on the Internet will go down
in the future. Taking into account an historical perspective - Purcell et
al took the telegraph example but I suggest one better as the first
movable type cast in metal invented in the 1400’s by Gutenberg - they
conclude that the majority of these engines finish being rendered obsolete
by newer technologies. Exactly in the same way as the social effects that
invention produced, against of for.

Really, in 1997 Impicciatore et al opened the Pandora box when they
reviewed the Internet as a source of health information (2). However, an
historical outlook also may be useful to give the realistic weight to this
sort of papers. Conducting a simple seek by means of Medline database you
can find a few number of papers devoted to the same problem of quality and
accuracy of health information, but in other sources of information as
mass media.

In 1990, Gunderson-Warner et al concluded that the teratogen
information available in 15 popular magazines, issued in 1985 regarding
exposures in pregnancy, was frequently misleading, alarming, and
unsupported by the scientific literature (3). Concretely, 55.4% of
articles reviewed were scored as misleading or inaccurate. It is of
interest to note that five years after this paper Hothan proceeded in the
same manner with 14 highest-circulation popular magazines in Australia
(4). However, in this occasion he found that 77.6% of articles, which
offered information on drugs and environmental influences in pregnancy,
were rated as accurate, while only 2.7% were rated as anxiety provoking or
Other reviews published in the BMJ, as papers or letters, have showed
their reservations about quality and accuracy of medical information in TV
programmes (5-7).

Several readings may be done subsequent to the above comments.
Firstly, the referred problem of Internet is the same old problem of other
non-medical or non-scientific sources of health information. Secondly,
There are some doubts about a victorious effect of papers for improving
quality and accuracy of healthcare information in mass media, including
the Internet. As the web editor of the BMJ, Tony Delamothe, has repeated
in some occasions: As for any other medium it varies widely, regulation
does not seem like the right strategy for improving it.

In conclusion, It would be obtuse to select the Internet as the
target to propose a regulatory strategy.

(1)Purcell GP, Wilson P, Delamothe T. The quality of health
information on the internet. BMJ 2002; 324: 557-558.

(2) Impicciatore P, Pandolfini C, Casella N, Bonati M. Reliability of
health information for the public on the world wide web: systematic survey
of advice on managing fever in children at home. BMJ 1997; 314:1875­9.

(3) Gunderson-Warner S, Martinez LP, Martinez IP, Carey JC, Kochenour
NK, Emery MG. Critical review of articles regarding pregnancy exposures in
popular magazines. Teratology 1990; 42:469-472.

(4) Hotham NJ. Information on drugs and environmental influences in
pregnancy in popular magazines: a critical review. Med J Aust 1995;

(5) Gordon PN, Williamson S, Lawler PG. As seen on TV: observational
study of cardiopulmonary resuscitation in British television medical
dramas. BMJ 1998; 317: 780-783

(6) Steel R. Stories in TV drama series about psychiatry were
researched in detail. BMJ 1999; 319: 384.

(7) O'Connor S, Deeks JJ, Hawton K, Simkin S, Keen A, Altman DG,
Philo G, Bulstrode C. Effects of a drug overdose in a television drama on
knowledge of specific dangers of self poisoning: population based surveys.
BMJ 1999; 318: 978-979.

Competing interests: No competing interests

14 March 2002
Cándido Hernández-López
clinical pharmacologist
Clinical Pharmacology Section, R&D Department, VITA-INVEST, S.A., Sant Joan Despí, Barcelona, SPAIN