Thursday, January 04, 2007

Health Information Literacy and Competencies of Information Age Students: Results From the Interactive Online Research Readiness Self-Assessment


Health Information Literacy and Competencies of Information Age Students: Results From the Interactive Online Research Readiness Self-Assessment (RRSA). This article is by Lana Ivanitskaya, Irene O’Boyle, and Anne Marie Casey. All three of these individuals works at Central Michigan University and Ann Marie Casey is my boss. The article appeared in the Journal of Medical Internet Research 2006, 8(2).

From the article:

As society moves toward evidence-based medicine [1], health providers, health educators, and health care consumers must acquire not only basic health information literacy skills but also more advanced competencies [2]. These competencies include evaluation of the quality of health information resources, obtaining health information documents on narrow topics by conducting advanced searches, judging the trustworthiness of health information sources, and understanding the advantages and disadvantages of different media. The last point is of special concern because many individuals have come to rely on the Internet as a main source of health information. This research addresses the Healthy People 2010 Objective 11-2, currently worded as “to improve the health literacy of persons with inadequate or marginal literacy skills,” but which may be expanded to the entire US population instead of only to those with marginal or inadequate literacy skills [3]. In addition, it aims at providing needs assessment information that may aid in accomplishing Objective 11-3, which is related to increasing the proportion of health communication activities that include research and evaluation, and Objective 11-4, set to increase the proportion of health-related websites that disclose information that can be used to assess the quality of the sites.

Recent reports suggest that over 55% of Americans with Internet access seek health information online [4]. One of the most common complaints about online health information searches is the amount of time required to process the documents that are found [5], but this observation is likely to be related to the general nature of the searches conducted—few information consumers use advanced search features, precisely specify their keywords, or limit their searches in some other way. While Internet search engines help identify a very large number of health-related documents, their use calls for advanced competencies that not all information consumers may possess. For example, the vast majority of documents found on the Internet have not passed a rigorous peer-review process. The ability to conduct one’s own review is clearly an advanced skill. Arguably, health information consumers will be at a greater risk of making health decisions on the basis of noncredible information if they conduct a Google search as opposed to a search in a scholarly library database. This risk will be particularly high for individuals with poor health information competencies. Research comparing clinical evidence to Internet information reveals numerous examples of erroneous and potentially harmful information on such popular topics as cancer rates, smoking cessation methods, and fever management in children [6-8].

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