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Evaluating Quality

Not everything that is on the Web is reliable. Information and resources may be incomplete, inaccurate or out of date. [1-3] Some sites can also be intentionally misleading. It is therefore essential that users exercise judgement before accepting the material presented. There are various strategies that can be used.

Accreditation and Quality Assurance

Quality initiatives are one way in which website developers are encouraged to comply with appropriate standards. [4] HONcode is an international standard overseen by the Health on the Net Foundation. healthdirect is an Australian information broker that sets a series of quality requirements for groups wanting to be included in their databases.

Tools to assist in assessing quality

There have been several reviews of quality criteria relating to online health information. [5,6] A number of quality assessment tools and scales have also been developed. They include:

Domains and URLs

The Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is the web address of a page. It is displayed in the web browser when a page is open. For example the homepage URL for CareSearch is https://www.caresearch.com.au 

The URL can include helpful information. For example, .com indicates that the domain is on a commercial server. University servers are indicated by .edu or .ac. Government servers are indicated by .gov. There are restrictions on who can access government and education servers.

The country of origin for the server is also part of the web address for many URLs. American sites often do not include a country code. Examples of country codes are:

  • Australia (.au)
  • United Kingdom (.uk)
  • Canada (.ca)

When you run a search, you will often be taken directly to a page within a website. If there is no link to the home page, you can delete all of the URL after the domain and country code (eg .com.au) and then search. This should take you to the home page where you can find out more about who is providing the information. The 'About Us' section often provides useful information about authorship of the site.

Checking information

One of the simplest ways of checking the quality of a piece of information is to see if it is consistent with other sources. Checking two or three sites may provide some indication as to consistency or disagreement.

  1. Black PC, Penson DF. Prostate cancer on the Internet--information or misinformation? J Urol. 2006 May;175(5):1836-42. 
  2. Falagas ME, Karveli EA, Tritsaroli VI. The risk of using the Internet as reference resource: A comparative study. Int J Med Informatics. 2008 Apr;77(4):280-6. 
  3. Eysenbach G, Powell J, Kuss O, Sa ER. Empirical studies assessing the quality of health information for consumers on the world wide web: a systematic review. JAMA. 2002 May 22-29;287(20):2691-700.  
  4. Commission of the European Communities, Brussels. eEurope 2002: Quality Criteria for Health Related Websites. J Med Internet Res. 2002 Dec;4(3):E15. 
  5. Wilson P. 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. BMJ. 2002 March 9;324(7337):598-602. 
  6. Kim P, Eng TR, Deering MJ, Maxfield A. Published criteria for evaluating health related web sites: review. BMJ. 1999 Mar 6;318(7184):647-9. 
  7. Provost M, Koompalum D, Dong D, Martin BC. The initial development of the WebMedQual scale: domain assessment of the construct of quality of health web sites. Int J Med Inform. 2006 Jan;75(1):42-57. Epub 2005 Sep 19. 
Last updated 31 January 2017