Assessing medical student learning in assessing the quality of health information on the internet and communicating the skill to patients

Ravi Shankar


Background Patients increasingly turn to the internet for health information. However, seeking valid information can be difficult because of the speed of accumulation of information and lack of control. HealthInSite, the Canadian Health Network, the Health On the Net Foundation and the QUality Information ChecKlist have created criteria to assess internet health information. The fourth semester students at the Manipal College of Medical Sciences, Pokhara, Nepal, were taught to assess health information online and to communicate the same to simulated patients. Student feedback regarding the exercise was collected using a questionnaire.
Methods The exercise was carried out during the pharmacology practical sessions in small groups of seven or eight students each. The students developed their own checklist using information from the organisation websites mentioned above. Each group analysed a particular health website. During the second session the groups communicated the critical appraisal criteria to a simulated patient. Then the patient chose websites for a particular disease condition. Formative assessment of the sessions was carried out. A questionnaire was used to collect student feedback about the sessions. Basic demographic information was collected. Student attitude was studied by noting their degree of agreement with a set of seven statements using a Likert-type scale. The median score was calculated.
Results A total of 56 of the 73 fourth semester students participated. The gender ratio was equal. The common nationalities were Indians, Nepalese and Sri Lankans. The median score was 27 (maximum score 35) and the interquartile range was 4. There were no significant differences in the total scores among different subgroups of respondents. The students wanted similar sessions to be frequently incorporated during the course. Formative assessment revealed that the groups worked cohesively. They were able to analyse the given website appropriately and were successful in communicating the assessment criteria to the simulated patient.
Conclusions The sessions should be continued and strengthened and could be expanded to other semesters and especially to students during the clinical years of study. Preliminary feedback was positive but more detailed studies are required.


assessment criteria; communication; internet health information

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