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BMJ. 2002 Mar 9;324(7337):573-7.

How do consumers search for and appraise health information on the world wide web? Qualitative study using focus groups, usability tests, and in-depth interviews.

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  • 1Unit for Cybermedicine and eHealth, Department of Clinical Social Medicine, University of Heidelberg, Bergheimer Str 58, 69115 Heidelberg, Germany.



To describe techniques for retrieval and appraisal used by consumers when they search for health information on the internet.


Qualitative study using focus groups, naturalistic observation of consumers searching the world wide web in a usability laboratory, and in-depth interviews.


A total of 21 users of the internet participated in three focus group sessions. 17 participants were given a series of health questions and observed in a usability laboratory setting while retrieving health information from the web; this was followed by in-depth interviews.


Heidelberg, Germany.


Although their search technique was often suboptimal, internet users successfully found health information to answer questions in an average of 5 minutes 42 seconds (median 4 minutes 18 seconds) per question. Participants in focus groups said that when assessing the credibility of a website they primarily looked for the source, a professional design, a scientific or official touch, language, and ease of use. However, in the observational study, no participants checked any "about us" sections of websites, disclaimers, or disclosure statements. In the post-search interviews, it emerged that very few participants had noticed and remembered which websites they had retrieved information from.


Further observational studies are needed to design and evaluate educational and technological innovations for guiding consumers to high quality health information on the web.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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