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Abstract

We all need ways to assess the quality of the information we look for, but this task is critically important when we are seeking health information. Healthcare consumers increasingly seek and use health information to address their health concerns. However, many health consumers lack the time and expertise required to make solid judgments about the quality of health information they encounter. A full range of quality appraisal methods for health information offer help, yet health consumers use those methods infrequently. Health consumers need better support to overcome barriers to efficiency, scalability, and transparency often associated with this breadth of valuable methods. Furthermore, they need ways to assess the quality of health information they find in the context of their own, individually situated needs. Our goals were to investigate the concept of health information quality and to explore how we can provide health consumers with better support by highlighting, rather than hiding, important aspects of health information quality. First, by reviewing and synthesizing criteria used by a broad range of quality appraisal methods for health information, we identified four focal characteristics of health information quality: content, reference, authorship, and publisher. Together, these four characteristics of intrinsic quality provide an organizing framework for health consumers to assess the quality of health information along multiple dimensions according to their own needs. Next, we used a user-center approach to design a prototype tool that concretely illustrates our framework by allowing the user to highlight multiple dimensions of health information quality. We present a usage case example of this illustrative tool, which visualizes the quality of MEDLINE search results. Our work provides a new perspective on health information quality by acknowledging and supporting consumers' needs for transparency and flexibility as they take a prominent role in health information quality assessment.

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