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, 22 (1), e13534

You Get What You Pay for on Health Care Question and Answer Platforms: Nonparticipant Observational Study


You Get What You Pay for on Health Care Question and Answer Platforms: Nonparticipant Observational Study

Fatemeh Ameri et al. J Med Internet Res.


Background: Seeking health information on the internet is very popular despite the debatable ability of lay users to evaluate the quality of health information and uneven quality of information available on the Web. Consulting the internet for health information is pervasive, particularly when other sources are inaccessible because of time, distance, and money constraints or when sensitive or embarrassing questions are to be explored. Question and answer (Q&A) platforms are Web-based services that provide personalized health advice upon the information seekers' request. However, it is not clear how the quality of health advices is ensured on these platforms.

Objective: The objective of this study was to identify how platform design impacts the quality of Web-based health advices and equal access to health information on the internet.

Methods: A total of 900 Q&As were collected from 9 Q&A platforms with different design features. Data on the design features for each platform were generated. Paid physicians evaluated the data to quantify the quality of health advices. Guided by the literature, the design features that affected information quality were identified and recorded for each Q&A platform. The least absolute shrinkage and selection operator and unbiased regression tree methods were used for the analysis.

Results: Q&A platform design and health advice quality were related. Expertise of information providers (beta=.48; P=.001), financial incentive (beta=.4; P=.001), external reputation (beta=.28; P=.002), and question quality (beta=.12; P=.001) best predicted health advice quality. Virtual incentive, Web 2.0 mechanisms, and reputation systems were not associated with health advice quality.

Conclusions: Access to high-quality health advices on the internet is unequal and skewed toward high-income and high-literacy groups. However, there are possibilities to generate high-quality health advices for free.

Keywords: eHealth; health care access; health information; health literacy; information literacy; internet health information.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflicts of Interest: None declared.


Figure 1
Figure 1
The unbiased regression tree (N=834). "n" is the number of records; "Y" is the value of health advice quality.

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