Quantifying the Quality of Web Health Information on Student Health Center Websites Using a Software Tool: A Design and Development Study

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Form JMIR Res. 2022 Feb 2;6(2):e32360. doi: 10.2196/32360.


BACKGROUND: The Internet has become a major source of health information, especially for adolescents and young adults. Unfortunately, inaccurate, incomplete, or outdated health information is rampant on the web. Often, teens and young adults turn to authoritative websites, such as the Student Health Center (SHC) website of the university they attend, for reliable health information. Although most SHC clinics on campus adhere to American College Health Association standards, their websites are not subject to any standards or codes of conduct. In the absence of quality standards or guidelines, monitoring and compliance processes do not exist for CHS websites. Thus, there is no control of health information posted on CHS websites by a central governing body.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study is to develop, describe, and validate open-source software that can effectively and efficiently assess the quality of health information on CHS websites in the United States.

METHODS: Our cross-functional team designed and developed an open-source software, QMOHI (Quantitative Measurements of Online Health Information), which assesses the quality of information for a specified health topic from all websites of the CHS belonging to a predetermined list of universities. The tool was designed to calculate 8 different quality metrics that quantify various aspects of information quality based on the retrieved text. We conducted and reported the results of 3 experiments that evaluated the QMOHI tool in terms of scalability, generalizability in health topics, and robustness to changes in university website structure.

RESULTS: Empirical evaluation showed that the QMOHI tool is highly scalable and significantly more efficient than manual web-based information quality assessment. Tool execution time was dominated by network-related tasks (98%), while metric calculations took less than 2 seconds. QMOHI demonstrated thematic versatility, assessing the quality of CHS website information for four disparate and broad health topics (COVID, cancer, long-acting reversible contraceptives, and condoms) and two narrowly focused topics (intra-device hormonal device and copper intrauterine device). The tool was robust, correctly measuring the quality of information despite changes to the structure of the CHS website. QMOHI can support longitudinal studies by being robust to such website changes.

CONCLUSIONS: The QMOHI enables researchers and public health practitioners to conduct large-scale studies of CHS websites that were previously too time-consuming and expensive. The ability to generalize broadly or focus narrowly enables a wide range of applications for QMOHI, allowing researchers to study both common and underexplored health topics. QMOHI’s ability to robustly analyze CHS websites periodically promotes longitudinal surveys and allows QMOHI to be used as a monitoring tool. QMOHI serves as a launchpad for our future work which aims to develop a broadly applicable public health tool for online health information studies with potential applications far beyond CHS websites.

PMID:35107423 | DO I:10.2196/32360

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