Websites as a tool for public health education: determining the trustworthiness of health websites on Ebola disease

Ronak Hamzehei, Masoumeh Ansari, Shahabedin Rahmatizadeh, Saeideh Valizadeh-Haghi


Objectives: Health service providers use internet as a tool for the spreading of health information and people often go on the web to acquire information about a disease. A wide range of information with varying qualities and by authors with varying degrees of credibility has thus become accessible by the public. Most people believe that the health information available on the internet is reliable. This issue reveals the need for having a critical view of the health information available online that is directly related to people's life. The Ebola epidemic is an emergency situation in the international public health domain and the internet is regarded as an important source for obtaining information on this disease. Given the absence of studies on the trustworthiness of health websites on Ebola, the present study was conducted to assess the trustworthiness of websites which are focused on this disease.

Methods: The term "Ebola" was searched in Google, Yahoo and Bing search engines. Google Chrome browser was used for this purpose with the settings fixed on yielding 10 results per page. The first 30 English language websites in each of the three search engines were evaluated manually by using the HONcode of conduct tool. Moreover, the official HONcode toolbar was used to identify websites that had been officially certified by HON foundation. Results: Almost the half of the retrieved websites were commercial (49%). Complementarity was the least-observed criterion (37%) in all the websites retrieved from all three-search engines. Justifiability, Transparency and Financial Disclosure had been completely observed (100%).

Discussion: The present study showed that only three criteria (Justifiability, Transparency and Financial Disclosure) out of the eight HON criteria were observed in the examined websites. Like other health websites, the websites concerned with Ebola are not reliable and should be used with caution.

Conclusion: Considering the lack of a specific policy about the publication of health information on the web, it is necessary for healthcare providers to advise their patients to use only credible websites. Furthermore, teaching them the criteria for assessing the trustworthiness of health websites would be helpful.

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Online Journal of Public Health Informatics * ISSN 1947-2579 *