Finding Useful H1N1 Information Online

June 9, 2009 at 9:43 pm 4 comments

I was interviewed for Healthcare IT News about how H1N1 information is disseminated to the public. While the news media was providing constant updates about outbreaks, my interest was in how healthcare consumers get useful information. I sent the author, Molly Merrill, a quick analysis of some of the sources of information I had used.

The CDC is known and established as the most respected source of information in this country and comes up as one of the first results in most searches on “swine flu” or “H1N1”. Their site is well-branded and is clearly marked with the last updates. However the site itself is busy with sidebars and lots of related information, while arguably the most important information for most healthcare consumers is in a box near the bottom, “What You Can Do to Stay Healthy”. What is likely to be prevalent on most people’s minds doesn’t appear at all here. If you click on “H1N1 Flu & You” near the bottom, a Q&A format addresses the questions people are likely to have, such as “What are the signs and symptoms of this virus in people?” In addition, the CDC has done a great job of using social media, such as twitter, for updates.
 
While I applaud the Massachusetts Department of Public Healthfor providing material in 14 languages, the page itself is basically a collection of links to PDFs. The documents I read are are well-written but some are not even what the links say; for instance, under “Resources if You Are Sick or Think You Are Sick”, the Flu Symptoms Checklist was designed for a parent to determine if a child should be kept home from school or brought to the doctor.
 
WebMD’s Swine Flu Centerdoes a better job of providing immediately visible and useful information through clearly labeled links to answer common questions such as “Swine Flu and Travel”. Due to poor health literacy skills and the fears that have been played upon by the media frenzy, health Web sites should provide very specific information that addresses the concerns uppermost on a healthcare consumer’s mind and it should take minimal scrolling to find it, as is the case here. 
 
Finally, my town, Lexington, MA, has done a great job of addressing parental concerns through emails. The school department Web site provides a parent resource with guidelines about how to talk to your child, a huge problem when children hear a lot on the media and from their friends and need to hear factual age-appropriate information from their parents. And, when one of my sons was out sick for a few days, I received a phone call from the school nurse!

Entry filed under: health, online health communities, Web 2.0. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

The Pitfalls of Getting Medical Information on the Internet Health Stories: Asking the Doctor a Question Armed with the Answer

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Friedl Knapp  |  October 13, 2009 at 9:01 am

    All the posted appendages are excellent.

    Reply
  • 2. Steven  |  August 5, 2009 at 5:09 am

    http://www.h1flu.org
    I don’t think there’s a greater health risk right now like the h1n1 swine flu virus, the government isn’t telling us everything about this pandemic. It will kill thousands more this fall/winter.

    Reply
  • 3. tnolan  |  July 10, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Hi, thanks for the blog. In the UK we have http://www.nhs.uk, which has a swine flu symptom checker. I think it’s quite well done.

    The government are planning to launch an online flu service that will allow the public to get a diagnosis and antiviral prescription online (‘sneeze and click’ i’m calling it). We’ll see how it functions but the idea is interesting.

    Reply
  • 4. Finding Useful H1N1 Information Online  |  June 9, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    […] Original post by Lisa Neal Gualtieri […]

    Reply

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Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

Lisa GualtieriLisa Gualtieri is Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. She is Director of the Certificate Program in Digital Health Communication. Lisa teaches Designing Health Campaigns using Social Media, Social Media and Health, Mobile Health Design, and Digital Strategies for Health Communication. Contact Lisa: lisa.gualtieri@tufts.edu

@lisagualtieri


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