Online health information is available and accessible almost instantaneously; in Australia this is true for most individuals with internet connections, from any digital device. Sourcing evidence-based research and information regarding health is crucial in informing decision making, improving knowledge and skills, and guiding service choices and clinical practice for health professionals and care workers. Virtual health resources are widely used in clinical care settings; individuals routinely search online for answers to health-related queries, which may assist their ability to appropriately service others in their care. For individuals working in aged care, accessing online information facilitates timely answers to their queries or may contribute to their ongoing professional education. Health professionals and care workers are also well-positioned to refer their clients or patients to trustworthy, reputable, and up-to-date online health resources.
Online information is typically cost-effective, with the potential to reach many, including individuals who are geographically remote, or based in community rather than hospital settings. Websites routinely contribute to online communities of practice which may serve individuals working in the field who have limited peer support.
One widely held concern relates to the quality of information available, especially when the accuracy or relevance of resources may be contested. Online health information is difficult to regulate in terms of quality control and trustworthiness. Triangulating multiple sources to confirm or refute facts or suggestions is crucial. There are a variety of ways to assess the quality and trustworthiness of online health information, including checking the ‘About Us’ page to see who runs the website and to ascertain if it is affiliated with government or a university, health organisation, hospital, or business. You may also wish to consider the date of the publication, whether information is reviewed or edited before posting (for example, by an editorial board), the author of the article and whether they have the credentials to make specific claims or suggestions, if embedded web links are kept up-to-date, whether the advice or suggestions are presented in an impartial and independent way, if the website has ties to commercial companies, and whether references to original sources are included.
Online health information in palliative care and advance care planning has inherent value to clinicians and consumers alike. Best practice requires harnessing the latest evidence. However many health professionals and care workers are time-poor, and our health system is often complicated and difficult to navigate. Issues including e-literacy and search literacy have become pertinent in this space. The volume of online health information is large, and ever-increasing, and navigating through troves of online resources can be daunting and may create unique challenges. Due to the wealth of online information available, identifying and filtering the most relevant, useful, current, unbiased, evidence-based information has become paramount.
Visit the ELDAC website (www.eldac.com.au) to access evidence-based information and resources about specialised palliative care and advance care planning in the aged care space. We have tailored our materials to be understandable and actionable, with active links to useful resources and forms to assist your practice. Our toolkits comprise up-to-date, relevant and accurate information, and quickly and easily direct you to resources and tools from countless websites. We have taken the time to vet the information we direct you to in terms of accuracy, quality, and relevancy, to establish its legitimacy. Our toll-free advisory helpline (1800 870 155) can also assist you in navigating our website to find exactly what you are looking for. Our helpline is staffed on Monday to Friday, from 9am – 5pm (ACST). We look forward to chatting with you soon.
Dr Georgia Rowley, Research Associate, ELDAC Project, Flinders University