In this era of the public taking an active role in their health, people turn to consumer health information to help them make decisions about their health care. With millions of people making decisions about their health based on the information they find - how they find and use that information becomes very important to America's state of health and health care.
This week I had the opportunity to introduce a consumer health website - MedlinePlus - to students in a Masters of Public Health program (the course was health literacy and the class was health information online). The discussion began with some statistics about the number of Americans online and how they look for health information and progressed to an interesting discussion about the difficulties of making information accessbile to a wide variety of people. Approximately 8 million Americans search for health information online everyday and more than half of them make decisions based on what they find online. That makes loooking for information online as popular as paying bills and reading blogs. But here is where it gets interesting - most of the health information online is clinically questionable and/or incomplete (from a 2001 JAMA article). Health Literacy is an important and complex issue and the issues of computer/internet literacy add another dimension to finding and using health information online. Beyond the basic issues of using a mouse and opening software, there are added issues of knowing how to navigate a website and evaluate the source of online information for reliability and accuracy.
The issues of reliability and literacy of health information are important, so why do we spend more media time checking the accuracy of the latest reported celebrity pregnancy than on the reliability of the information that influences many decisions in a $2 trillon industry?