Objective: The use of the Internet as a source of medicines information is increasing. However, the quality of online information is highly variable. Equipping Internet users to distinguish good quality information is the aim of a new five-item quality assessment tool (DARTS) that was developed by the Working Group on Information to Patients under the Pharmaceutical Forum established by the European Commission. The objective of this study was to investigate how people with depression assess the quality of online medicines information and to study their opinions about the DARTS tool in assisting in this process.
Setting: Focus group discussions with Internet users were conducted in metropolitan Helsinki, Finland.
Method: Six focus group discussions (67-109 min duration) were conducted with people with depression (n = 29). The DARTS tool was used as a stimulus after open discussion in relation to the evaluation of the quality of Internet-based medicines information. The focus groups were digitally audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were thematically content analysed by two researchers.
Results: Focus group participants were generally critical of the information they retrieved. However, few participants systematically applied quality assessment criteria when retrieving online information. No participants had knowledge or experience of any quality assessment tools. The DARTS tool was perceived as being concise and easy to use and understand. Many participants indicated it would allay some of their concerns related to information quality and act as a reminder. While several participants felt the tool should not be any more extensive, some of them believed it should include a more in-depth explanation to accompany each of the quality criteria.
Conclusions: The DARTS tool may act as a prompt for people with depression to assess the quality of online information they obtain. The five DARTS criteria may form the basis of a systematic approach to quality assessment and the tool may also act as a reminder of quality issues in general. Further studies are needed to assess the actual value of the DARTS tool as well as its value in relation to other quality assessment instruments.