Apparently credible websites may not be accurate

pparently credible websites may not necessarily provide higher levels of accurate health information, finds a study in this week’s BMJ.

Researchers examined the relation between credibility features and accuracy of contents of 121 websites that provided information on five common health topic: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ankle sprain, emergency contraception, menorrhagia, and female sterilisation.

The entire contents of the selected websites were assessed for three credibility features (source, currency, and evidence hierarchy) and accuracy of contents. They found 93% of websites described the source of medical information, 49% displayed the date that the information was posted, and 18% displayed evidence hierarchy (i.e. levels assigned to various pieces of information were related to their validity or methodological quality).

Accuracy of website contents was judged against recognised guidelines for each of the five health topics. Websites with a description of credibility features tended to have higher levels of accuracy, but this relationship was not strong, say the authors.

They conclude: “Our study shows that features of website credibility have only slight or at best moderate correlation with accuracy of information in five common health topics. Thus, apparently credible websites may not necessarily provide higher levels of accurate health information.”

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