Health Literacy and User-Generated Content

Health Literacy is appallingly low in the U.S.
The Birmingham News reports on the “silent health epidemic” created by low health literacy, and mentions the Joint Commission white paper, ’What Did the Doctor Say?:’ Improving Health Literacy to Protect Patient Safety.

Wikipedia appallingly popular for health information
In a study from Envision Solutions titled Diving Deeper Into Online Health Search, 87.5% of searches for health information via Google or Yahoo displayed user-generated content on the first page of results.

“Of UGM indexed by search engines, Wikipedia was the most frequently cited resource. This wiki was referenced on the first page in 63% of searches”

Wow.

I’d never recommend Wikipedia to a medical professional or for consumer healthcare information, but I’m genuinely urcertain if use of Wikipedia helps or hurts health literacy. My first guess is that the very act of attempting to look up information is an okay first step, even if I’d rather that the consumer click over to MedlinePlus than to Wikipedia. The trick is that it can’t the consumer’s last step.

Any thoughts?

The report from Envision Solutions is all about searching for health information online and “User-Generated Media” (UGM).

UGM was defined as:

o Weblogs

o Online bulletin boards (either links directly to bulletin board content or Websites where they were prominently displayed)

o Wikis

o Podcasts

o Other UGM (i.e., Websites with content developed by individuals such as patients and medical professionals)

I’m not confortable with this definition. Look at Women’s Health News. Here’s a blog that examines news on women’s health topics and summarizes or points readers towards information. But the blog is written by a health information professional, a degreed medical librarian employed by a reputable academic medical library. She is legitimately expert at finding and processing this sort of information. What makes her a “user” and not a “publisher”? The fact that she’s not motivated by profit and isn’t government-sponsored? Couldn’t one say the same about Open Access journals? Are OA journals “User-Generated Media,” or are they disqualified from this label by virtue of their peer reviewe processes?

(Please note: I’m not being a smart-alec, I’m really asking and hoping someone has a good answer for this question.)

Maybe I’m just annoyed by this definition because it fails to recognize that tools like blogs and other “social software” are blurring the line between creator and consumer, developer and user or publisher and reader. Also, traditional media producers and corporations now own and run blogs.

It is as though Envision is saying “blog” equals “amateur”. Sure, that’s often the case, but not always.

[Both items via Kevin MD]

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