In 1997 a study set up to assess the quality of health information on the internet found that the overall quality of information was poor. Apparently the findings were mentioned in 78 journals and the message should therefore have reached a wide audience. Four years later, scientists in Italy decided to investigate the effects of the earlier findings by re-evaluating the quality of the original web pages, as well as that of a more recent sample of pages, using the same methods.
Researchers at the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche "Mario Negri" in Milan searched for the 41 web pages evaluated in the original study to see if they still existed. If they did, the scientists investigated whether they had been substituted with new pages or their content had been modified.
They compared the content with copies of the original pages, noted changes and assigned scores by using the guidelines and scoring system applied in the original study.
On a positive note, the researchers found that the quality of health information on the internet has improved over the past few years despite user concerns over poor quality and its possible consequences. According to the scientists, the importance of low quality or incomplete information has led researchers to evaluate web pages in different disciplines and to define lists of requirements for users to evaluate the quality of web pages. However, they stressed that monitoring health information on the Internet for accuracy, completeness, and consistency is still fundamental.
Full findings are published in the 9 March issue of the British Medical Journal.