Judging the credibility of online health information: the interaction between user health literacy and website quality

Almost two out of three Internet users have already looked for health information on the web, making it one of the main sources of health information. Often users do not follow up their search with a physician, putting themselves at risk of acting upon wrong information. As studies on health websites have highlighted high variance in information quality, the individuals’ ability to critically evaluate online health information becomes of crucial importance. Yet, although low health literacy has been shown to be associated with less frequent searches for health information, to a poorer ability to understand information, and to a poorer ability to apply health-related instructions, the relationship between health literacy and ability to evaluate online health information has surprisingly only scarcely been studied. The main aim of the project is to investigate the interaction between the quality characteristics of websites and people’s health literacy in explaining their ability to evaluate online health information. Part of the study is devoted at understanding how much the quality of online health information is related with its perceived credibility and at identifying the main criteria used by people to assess it, while another part focuses on the specific role played by people’s health literacy in explaining this relationship. From a theoretical point of view the proposed project will shed light on the communication processes involved in the judgment of online health information and in particular on the role of people’s health literacy. From a practical point of view, it will provide useful information to health educators and policy makers on how to build information materials to increase people’s ability to assess the quality of online health information specifically targeted to the low literacy population.

Research team: Dr. Nicola Diviani
Prof. Julia van Weert
Prof. Bas van den Putte
Status: Ongoing since November 2013

Swiss National Science Foundation (http://www.snf.ch), Early Postdoc.Mobility grant nr. P2TIP1_148345 and Advanced Postdoc.

Mobility grant nr. P300P1_158408 awarded to Nicola Diviani