The accuracy of online health information: challenges and opportunities

TitleThe accuracy of online health information: challenges and opportunities
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Cullen, T. A.
Affiliation (1st Author)Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia WA 6050
Section or WGHealth Communication and Change Working Group
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodeCHAW2a
Slot Code (Keyword)CHAW2a
Time of Session11:00-12:30
Session TitleOnline and Social Media in Health Communication: Impacts and Opportunities
Submission ID4650

Health reporting is on the rise. This is evident from the steady increase in health publications, health programs on radio and television health programs, and the soaring demand for online health information. It shows that health is a popular topic and the media is where people turn to find it. A survey in 2011 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, revealed that 61 per cent of Americans searched for health information on the internet, and that six out of 10 respondents said the information they found online affected their decision about how to treat an illness or a medical condition. More than 55 per cent said it changed how they maintained their own health or the health of another. The demand for health information suggests that health journalism has a bright future. Yet, it places on journalists a responsibility to provide accurate and reliable content, especially since so many people make serious decisions based on what they read, hear or see on the media. The downside of online health reporting is that there is saturation coverage of health topics, and nearly every possible news or feature angle seems to have been covered. This makes it hard to maintain interest and also credibility, especially when many heath stories promote contradictory advice. It seems that nearly every week there is a new medical theory on whether the daily use of aspirin is effective or detrimental to one’s health, or whether broccoli is a way to slow the spread of certain cancers. So how reliable and well tested is the online health information we read, hear or view? Surveys conducted in the USA and Australia show there is plenty of room for improvement. This paper analyses the findings of the surveys and suggests ways to improve online coverage of health, including HIV.

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