Credibility of Web-Based Health Information     

A new survey of older adults in the U.S. with access to the Internet shows that 38% find it very or somewhat difficult to assess the reliability and credibility of health information on the Internet. The survey was conducted by the Merck Institute of Aging & Health (MIAH), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and health care of older adults.

A majority, 69 percent of adults ages 50 and up surveyed, at least occasionally use the Internet to look for health information. However, 31 percent stated they found it somewhat or very difficult to know where to go to even find reliable sources of health information on the Internet. Almost one-quarter of those surveyed also stated that it was very or somewhat difficult to know how to use the information they found to help make decisions about their health care.

“This new survey speaks to the volume of health information available on the web. Wading through it and knowing what’s credible can be very difficult, even for those who consider themselves well informed,” said Patricia Barry, MD, Executive Director of the Merck Institute of Aging & Health.

Nearly 70% of those surveyed say they are interested in learning more about how to use the Internet to find reliable health information.

As part of the effort to help the public find more credible health information on the Internet, MIAH and the American Federation of Aging Research (AFAR) are re-launching a new and improved  Health Compass Website (www.healthcompass.org) targeted at older adults and their caregivers. The site is a “how to” program designed to help visitors better understand health information and research on aging. It will enable visitors to:

--Find credible health information on the Internet.
--Critically evaluate the reliability of health information, product claims and research findings.
--Act on informed decisions about health care or lifestyle changes.

“Health Compass can help visitors navigate the sea of health and aging information available on the Internet and tell the difference between what’s helpful and what’s harmful,” continued Dr. Barry.

The new survey was conducted on behalf of MIAH in May 2005. 1,024 adults ages 50 and older, who currently have Internet access, were questioned via the Internet. Of those surveyed, 41 percent said they rarely, if ever, check the source of health information they find on the Web, and 45 percent rarely ever check to see how current the information is that they are getting.

“The vast amount of health information on the Internet can be especially confusing for older adults who have less experience using a computer and navigating the Web,” said AFAR’s Executive Director, Stephanie Lederman. “Health Compass is designed to be user-friendly for older adults by using larger type, uncluttered pages, and clear navigational steps.”

MIAH is a non-profit organization, funded by the Merck Company Foundation, and located in Washington, DC. The organization is dedicated to improving the health and independence of older adults around the world through information and education, and it is especially concerned with the education of primary care physicians in geriatrics. The Institute currently funds projects in the United States, Europe and Latin America.

AFAR is a national non-profit organization dedicated to supporting basic aging research. Since its founding in 1981, AFAR has provided more than 70 million to more than 1,900 researchers. Support for AFAR grants comes from foundations, corporations and individuals.

CONTACT: Merck Institute of Aging & Health (MIAH), Washington, DC Michele Patrick, 202-354-6585 or Jackie Nedell , 202-973-5826
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