Information and health literacies and the media

Todd Vandenbark

Health literacy logoSearching on Twitter for items on #healthliteracy and #healthlit, a link led me to an article in the Vancouver Observer (VO) on a new company’s website, “,” founded by “25-year-old Vancouver doctor Damon Ramsey, a family practice resident at St. Paul’s Hospital and UBC.” The VO’s interviewer wrote:

Healthism differs from other health websites, like, because it focuses on quality, not quantity, Ramsey says. All content on the site is reviewed by a medical advisory board to assure credibility, he says. Interactive quizzes help provide personalized information to visitors, who can build up health profiles by registering. Healthism differs from WebMD and similar sites in its intuitive, clean design as well, Ramsey says. “I have an obsession with user-centered design and the user experience.”

The site is visually appealing, with a simple navigation structure and useful tools such as a Target Heart Rate Calculator, Body Fat Calculator, and quizzes to test your “Preventive Health IQ.” To use the site, it requires registering and creating a profile, and you can even connect via Facebook.

Because of the nature of journalism (deadlines and the demand to produce), interviewing and taking the founder of such a website is at his/her word is usually good enough. But to evaluate whether the quality of such a site, it is necessary to dig deeper, and to apply two methods of evaluation: the CRAAP Test and the HON Code.

Developed by the Meriam Library at California State University Chico, the CRAAP test evaluates web content based on its:

  • Currency: When was the information published/posted/last updated?
  • Relevance: What is the importance of the information given your topic or information need?
  • Authority: Who is the author/publisher/sponsor of the information?
  • Accuracy: Is the information reliable, truthful, and correct?
  • Purpose: Why does this information exist?

The Health on the Net Foundation’s “HON Code Certification” is “an ethical standard aimed at offering quality health information. It demonstrates the intent of a website to publish transparent information. The transparency of the website will improve the usefulness and objectivity of the information and the publishment of correct data.” As discussed in a previous post, it simply means a site will be transparent about its funding sources, privacy and advertising policies, author credentials, site’s sources, etc.

As of this writing, does not have HON Code certification. In addition, the “medical advisory board” mentioned in the VO article is not documented anywhere on the site. The privacy policy, while long, is fairly straightforward, but there is no mention of funding sources. And the few articles I sampled, and calculators I looked at, do not cite their sources for this information. So, with these shortcomings, it appears the best decision is to wait and see if this site improves its transparency and provides sources for its information before adding it as a linked resource on the website of a top-notch academic medical library website, such as the Eccles Library.

Serious journalists who would evaluate such sites would do well to know about these methods of evaluating online resources before interviewing the site’s founder.

Where do you being searching for medical information online — Google, Wikipedia, a medical site? What have you found to be a reliable source of health information online? Tell us about it!