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Evaluating the Quality of Health Information in a Changing Digital Ecosystem

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      Abstract

      Background

      Critical evaluation of online health information has always been central to consumer health informatics. However, with the emergence of new Web media platforms and the ubiquity of social media, the issue has taken on a new dimension and urgency. At the same time, many established existing information quality evaluation guidelines address information characteristics other than the content (eg, authority and currency), target information creators rather than users as their main audience, or do not address information presented via novel Web technologies.

      Objective

      The aim of this formative study was to (1) develop a methodological approach for analyzing health-related Web pages and (2) apply it to a set of relevant Web pages.

      Methods

      This qualitative study analyzed 25 type 2 diabetes pages, which were derived from the results of a Google search with the keywords “diabetes,” “reversal,” and “natural.” The coding scheme, developed via a combination of theory- and data-driven approaches, includes 5 categories from existing guidelines (resource type, information authority, validity of background information sources, objectivity, and currency) and 7 novel categories (treatment or reversal method, promises and certainty, criticisms of establishment, emotional appeal, vocabulary, rhetoric and presentation, and use of science in argumentation). The coding involves both categorical judgment and in-depth narrative characterization. On establishing satisfactory level of agreement on the narrative coding, the team coded the complete dataset of 25 pages.

      Results

      The results set included “traditional” static pages, videos, and digitized versions of printed newspapers or magazine articles. Treatments proposed by the pages included a mixture of conventional evidence-based treatments (eg, healthy balanced diet exercise) and unconventional treatments (eg, dietary supplements, optimizing gut flora). Most pages either promised or strongly implied high likelihood of complete recovery. Pages varied greatly with respect to the authors’ stated background and credentials as well as the information sources they referenced or mentioned. The majority included criticisms of the traditional health care establishment. Many sold commercial products ranging from dietary supplements to books. The pages frequently used colloquial language. A significant number included emotional personal anecdotes, made positive mentions of the word cure, and included references to nature as a positive healing force. Most pages presented some biological explanations of their proposed treatments. Some of the explanations involved the level of complexity well beyond the level of an educated layperson.

      Conclusions

      Both traditional and data-driven categories of codes used in this work yielded insights about the resources and highlighted challenges faced by their users. This exploratory study underscores the challenges of consumer health information seeking and the importance of developing support tools that would help users seek, evaluate, and analyze information in the changing digital ecosystem.

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      Most cited references 29

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      Health literacy and public health: A systematic review and integration of definitions and models

      Background Health literacy concerns the knowledge and competences of persons to meet the complex demands of health in modern society. Although its importance is increasingly recognised, there is no consensus about the definition of health literacy or about its conceptual dimensions, which limits the possibilities for measurement and comparison. The aim of the study is to review definitions and models on health literacy to develop an integrated definition and conceptual model capturing the most comprehensive evidence-based dimensions of health literacy. Methods A systematic literature review was performed to identify definitions and conceptual frameworks of health literacy. A content analysis of the definitions and conceptual frameworks was carried out to identify the central dimensions of health literacy and develop an integrated model. Results The review resulted in 17 definitions of health literacy and 12 conceptual models. Based on the content analysis, an integrative conceptual model was developed containing 12 dimensions referring to the knowledge, motivation and competencies of accessing, understanding, appraising and applying health-related information within the healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion setting, respectively. Conclusions Based upon this review, a model is proposed integrating medical and public health views of health literacy. The model can serve as a basis for developing health literacy enhancing interventions and provide a conceptual basis for the development and validation of measurement tools, capturing the different dimensions of health literacy within the healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion settings.
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        eHEALS: The eHealth Literacy Scale

        Background Electronic health resources are helpful only when people are able to use them, yet there remain few tools available to assess consumers’ capacity for engaging in eHealth. Over 40% of US and Canadian adults have low basic literacy levels, suggesting that eHealth resources are likely to be inaccessible to large segments of the population. Using information technology for health requires eHealth literacy—the ability to read, use computers, search for information, understand health information, and put it into context. The eHealth Literacy Scale (eHEALS) was designed (1) to assess consumers’ perceived skills at using information technology for health and (2) to aid in determining the fit between eHealth programs and consumers. Objectives The eHEALS is an 8-item measure of eHealth literacy developed to measure consumers’ combined knowledge, comfort, and perceived skills at finding, evaluating, and applying electronic health information to health problems. The objective of the study was to psychometrically evaluate the properties of the eHEALS within a population context. A youth population was chosen as the focus for the initial development primarily because they have high levels of eHealth use and familiarity with information technology tools. Methods Data were collected at baseline, post-intervention, and 3- and 6-month follow-up using control group data as part of a single session, randomized intervention trial evaluating Web-based eHealth programs. Scale reliability was tested using item analysis for internal consistency (coefficient alpha) and test-retest reliability estimates. Principal components factor analysis was used to determine the theoretical fit of the measures with the data. Results A total of 664 participants (370 boys; 294 girls) aged 13 to 21 (mean = 14.95; SD = 1.24) completed the eHEALS at four time points over 6 months. Item analysis was performed on the 8-item scale at baseline, producing a tight fitting scale with α = .88. Item-scale correlations ranged from r = .51 to .76. Test-retest reliability showed modest stability over time from baseline to 6-month follow-up (r = .68 to .40). Principal components analysis produced a single factor solution (56% of variance). Factor loadings ranged from .60 to .84 among the 8 items. Conclusions The eHEALS reliably and consistently captures the eHealth literacy concept in repeated administrations, showing promise as tool for assessing consumer comfort and skill in using information technology for health. Within a clinical environment, the eHEALS has the potential to serve as a means of identifying those who may or may not benefit from referrals to an eHealth intervention or resource. Further research needs to examine the applicability of the eHEALS to other populations and settings while exploring the relationship between eHealth literacy and health care outcomes.
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          Verification Strategies for Establishing Reliability and Validity in Qualitative Research

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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ] Division of Specialized Information Services National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Bethesda, MD United States
            [2 ] University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI United States
            [3 ] Arizona State University Scottsdale, AZ United States
            Author notes
            Corresponding Author: Alla Keselman allagkeselman@ 123456gmail.com
            Contributors
            , ORCID: http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3267-761X
            Journal
            J Med Internet Res
            J. Med. Internet Res
            JMIR
            Journal of Medical Internet Research
            JMIR Publications (Toronto, Canada )
            1439-4456
            1438-8871
            February 2019
            08 February 2019
            : 21
            : 2
            30735144 6384537 v21i2e11129 10.2196/11129
            (Reviewer), (Reviewer),
            ©Alla Keselman, Catherine Arnott Smith, Anita C Murcko, David R Kaufman. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 08.02.2019.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://www.jmir.org/.as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

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