September 30th, 2010

Consumer health websites: Ooh pretty = Credibility (maybe)

The peer-reviewed Evidence Based Library & Information Practice (EBLIP) open source journal just published a review of Robins, D., Holmes, J., & Stansbury, M. (2010). Consumer health information on the web: The relationship of visual design and perceptions of credibility. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61(1), 13-19.

Here’s how the original study decided which consumer health websites to review:

Screen shots of 31 consumer health information sites chosen from the results of a Google search using the term “consumer health information” were converted to slide format and shown to participants. The 31 sites included 12 of the top ranked consumer health information sites derived from three sources: the Consumer and Patient Health Information Section (CAPHIS) of the Medical Library Association (MLA), the MLA itself, and Consumer Reports.

Findings included

A statistically significant correlation was reported between visual design preference and perceived credibility in 8 of the 31 sites (26%). In these instances where visual design is rated highly, so is credibility. When visual design ratings were ranked highest to lowest, credibility ratings followed the same pattern. Similarly, when credibility ratings were ranked highest to lowest, visual, design ratings followed.

However, part of the commentary notes

As an exploratory study, this is a very interesting and highly readable piece of research. It is, however, undermined by a lack of detail about the research participants and questions about the statistics.


Health sciences librarians are likely to find the list and analysis of the 31 web sites very interesting. It includes expected sites like MedlinePlus, but also drug companies such as Novartis and authoritative non-US sites such as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

The EBLIP review layout online briefly discusses the objective, study design, setting, subjects, methods, main results & conclusions including “The relationship is complicated and more research is needed on what visual design cues are important to credibility judgments.” Be sure to click through to the review PDF for the full scoop including the commentary. The original JASIST article is here, originally published online in October 2009, and the list of the 31 websites are the stimuli.

I still wonder about searching by the term ‘consumer health information’ though. My One and the same? entry explains my thoughts on that.

Even though I didn’t know about this study, I’m sure it was noticed and considered for some of the recent MedlinePlus redesign choices. Remember how MedlinePlus lost the top US government ranking for news & information websites in the American Customer Satisfaction Index last year? I wonder if it was less about social media incorporation and more about visual design, which has certainly gone in a different direction to be more similar to top ranked sites in the study now. It will be interesting to see what next year’s ranking is.

Other EBLIP reviews of interest from the current edition are Google Scholar Out-Performs Many Subscription Databases when Keyword Searching and Research into the Impact of Facebook as a Library Marketing Tool is Inconclusive.

Posted at 07 21 AM | share a comment | print this post

Leave a Reply