NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Good Is The Health Information On The Internet?

May 24, 2001

According to new research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people searching the Internet for health information may have a hard time finding the information they need. This is especially the case if they're searching for Spanish-language content or easy-to-understand information presented in layman's terms.

  • More than 60 million Americans went online in search of health information in the past year.
  • More than 70 percent of those who use the Internet report that the health information they find influences treatment decisions.
  • Less than a quarter of initial links provided by popular Internet search engines led to relevant content (20 percent of English and 12 percent of Spanish).

Researchers examined major Internet health-related Web sites for coverage of four common health topics including breast cancer, childhood asthma, depression and obesity. They found most of the information available on the Internet was accurate, but the information was often inconsistent and of variable quality.

  • On English-language sites, researchers found the information provided was accurate 75 percent to 91 percent of the time for the four conditions studied.
  • On Spanish-language sites, the accuracy measurements ranged from 53 percent to 96 percent.

Despite the substantial amount of health-related information available on the Internet, accessing health information using search engines and simple search terms can be problematic. Coverage of key information on English- and Spanish-language Web sites is also poor and inconsistent, although the accuracy of the information provided is generally good. High reading levels are required to comprehend Web-based health information.

Source: Gretchen K. Berland et al., "Health Information on the Internet: Accessibility, Quality, and Readability in English and Spanish," Journal of the American Medical Association, May 23, 2001.


Browse more articles on Health Issues