Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ooh it's another Pew Report on electronic health!.. or is it?

I first learned about Pew Internet reports in 2005 during the last evening degree class for my BA at the University of Washington. It was also from this class that a 2nd degree connection of the professor's led me exactly to where I am in medical librarianship today. Yes, I have kept in touch with my professor and thanked her and her 1st degree connection for this!

Every time I see a notification from Pew in my RSS feeds I eagerly check to see what it's about, and am always thrilled each time their research intersects with health information. The one released yesterday is The Engaged E-Patient Population. Everyone, including me, will cite the easy cut-and-paste blurb:

78% of home broadband users look online for health information, compared with 70% of home dial-up users. Home broadband users are twice as likely as home dial-up users to do health research on a typical day -- 12% vs. 6%.

High-speed, always-on connections enable frequent and in-depth information searches, which is particularly attractive if something important is at stake.

However, by digging a bit deeper we (disappointingly) find this isn't nearly as comprehensive a report as the 22-page Online Health Search 2006. It confusingly blends political campaigning data in with the health information data, such as this paragraph immediately following one about people sharing advice on how to communicate with health care providers

Along with all this engagement, however, is an understanding that the internet is not a cure-all. Some 60% of internet users agree with the following statement: "The internet is full of misinformation and propaganda that too many voters believe is accurate."
From what I have seen during my limited foray in consumer health information education thus far, I'm betting that nowhere near 60% of internet users would have similar agreement about the existance of health misinformation online nor understanding about the difference between pharmaceutical/for-profit vs. unbiased/non-profit health websites.

The report also does not give us the questions used for their survey(s). Without these, it is difficult to understand and impossible to verify the results stated... what does Pew mean by "in-depth information searches"? Searching MedlinePlus (kudos for being one of the best government websites!), and for breast cancer information? Clicking on the second page of Google search results?

I was increasingly confused by this report until I saw a note at the bottom stating "This column originally appeared on iHealthBeat" Wait, what? A column? A report? Which is this? It is then that I noticed that while this is presented as a Health report with "This latest Pew Internet Project survey confirms that.." and 'View PDF of Report' below the blurb, there is an icon that indicates this 'report' is actually a 'Memo' although no explanation is given to differentiate the two.

Searching iHealthBeat led to their verbatim August 12th Perspectives column. iHealthBeat is a daily publication for the California HealthCare Foundation.

As a librarian I am seriously disappointed by Pew; this is not a Health report but a brief summary of at least 2 unidentified surveys written as a perspective column for a health organization. There is certainly nothing wrong in Pew doing so, but presenting and labeling a perspective column in the same manner as their reports could be considered a form of internet misinformation itself. I look forward to much clearer definitions about their report/memo information in the future!

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