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November 7, 2001

Quality of Health Information on the Internet

Author Affiliations

Stephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorJody W.ZylkeMD, Contributing EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 2001;286(17):2092-2095. doi:10.1001/jama.286.17.2091

To the Editor: Dr Berland and colleagues found that most health-related Web sites require at least a 10th-grade reading level, and more than half require a college reading level.1 They recommend that Web information be made "more readable if the Internet is to serve as a ‘leveler' across different socioeconomic backgrounds." However, Internet users with at least a high school education tend to be more likely to go online for health information than Internet users with less education.2,3 From 1996 to 1988, I served as principal investigator of 2 studies that trained senior citizens to search for health care information on the Internet.4,5 The mean age was 69 years and the majority of the participants had some college education. There was no evidence that the reading level was a problem. However, simple key-word and menu-driven searches frequently yielded information that was overabundant, insufficient, or irrelevant, and the links were also sometimes irrelevant. Simplifying medical information can sometimes result in oversimplification, which might be incompatible with another of the authors' recommendations—to make Web health information more comprehensive.

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