Background: On more and more websites, consumers are provided with public reports about health care. This move toward provision of more comparative information has resulted in different information types being published that often contain contradictory information.
Objective: The objective was to assess the current state of the art in the presentation of online comparative health care information and to compare how the integration of different information types is dealt with on websites. The content analysis was performed in order to provide website managers and Internet researchers with a resource of knowledge about presentation formats being applied internationally.
Methods: A Web search was used to identify websites that contained comparative health care information. The websites were systematically examined to assess how three different types of information (provider characteristics and services, performance indicators, and health care user experience) were presented to consumers. Furthermore, a short survey was disseminated to the reviewed websites to assess how the presentation formats were selected.
Results: We reviewed 42 websites from the following countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Sweden. We found the most common ways to integrate different information types were the two extreme options: no integration at all (on 36% of the websites) and high levels of integration in single tables on 41% of the websites). Nearly 70% of the websites offered drill down paths to more detailed information. Diverse presentation approaches were used to display comparative health care information on the Internet. Numbers were used on the majority of websites (88%) to display comparative information.
Conclusions: Currently, approaches to the presentation of comparative health care information do not seem to be systematically selected. It seems important, however, that website managers become aware of the complexities inherent in comparative information when they release information on the Web. Important complexities to pay attention to are the use of numbers, the display of contradictory information, and the extent of variation among attributes and attribute levels. As for the integration of different information types, it remains unclear which presentation approaches are preferable. Our study provides a good starting point for Internet research to further address the question of how different types of information can be more effectively presented to consumers.