Thursday, August 02, 2007

Prescription for Some of Web's Top Health Info Sites: Cut the Commercials

Prescription for Some of Web's Top Health Info Sites: Cut the Commercials

PR Newswire via NewsEdge Corporation :

Six Clear Choices for Best Health Info Among Web's Top 20; Five Sites Rate Mediocre or Worse

YONKERS, N.Y., July 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Raters scored six of the Web's most popular health information sites as excellent in ratings released today by Consumer Reports WebWatch and the Health Improvement Institute, while five scored mediocre or worse.

"The best sites make the reader the number one priority -- depth and quality of information, separation of advertising from the articles, and ease of use follow from that priority," said Beau Brendler, Consumer Reports WebWatch's director. "We're gratified to see sites making improvements in those areas most important to users' trust and perception of credibility."

Three of the six top-rated sites are published by non-profit organizations, three for-profit. Both the lowest-rated sites are for-profit. The 12 raters who tested the sites include medical doctors, health care industry executives, medical librarians and health Web site senior producers and executives. A three-person committee reviewed their qualifications to be raters.

"Consumers need to know which websites offer the most reliable health information," said Peter Goldschmidt, President and Founder of the Health Improvement Institute. "Consumers should choose websites with strong contents and sound editorial policies and procedures. These ratings enable such choices."


-- Of the 20 sites rated, six were given the highest score, "Excellent;" four received a "Very Good" rating; five were given a rating of "Good;" three sites were rated "Fair;" and two received the lowest rating, "Poor."

-- The best sites offered a clear distinction between editorial content and sponsored content.

-- Sites rated "Excellent" included unbiased, peer-reviewed content written by health professionals.

-- Sites rated "Fair" and "Poor" often failed to disclose that health content and surveys were sponsored by advertisers, published "sponsored content" that did not appear distinct from site content, or did not clearly display policies to correct false, misleading or incorrect information.


Using a tool based on WebWatch's guidelines for Web site credibility and HII criteria for health information, a panel of health and medical experts examined 20 sites in-depth over a period of more than one month, then rated each using established Consumer Reports-style methods and the familiar trademarked symbols. The list was determined using Nielsen//NetRatings and WebWatch data.

Overall ratings scores were determined from ten different attributes, including identity, advertising and sponsorship disclosure, ease of use, privacy, contents, authorship, references, editorial policies and health information.

The ratings do not test the scientific accuracy and validity of the health information. However, a number of the ratings attributes are intended to evaluate information quality. Sites that scored well in contents, authorship, references and transparency of editorial policies scored the highest overall.

See how each site rated at

The 20 sites, ordered below by popularity measured by traffic (not by ratings score), are:

1. National Institutes of Health

2. WebMD

3. MSN Health & Fitness

4. About Health


6. Yahoo! Health


8. RealAge

9. AOL Health



12. Aetna InteliHealth

13. KidsHealth

14. Healthology

15. RxList

16. Everyday Health



19. eMedicineHealth


This is the organizations' second rating of the Web's top information sites, published in full at Ratings of diet sites were published in 2006. Since the 2005 ratings, at least three sites made improvements:

* About Health: In 2005 and again in 2006, raters penalized and the diets portion of the site for not disclosing a policy and procedure to correct inaccurate information. The site now publishes a corrections policy.

* When first rated in 2005, the site provided no explanation of mouse-over advertising. It now offers a complete explanation in expanded advertising policy. Raters also penalized the site for not disclosing a corrections policy. It now offers one of the best corrections policies reviewed.

* KidsHealth: Raters penalized the site for lack of a corrections policy during first round of ratings in 2005, and now offers a corrections policy.

Web publishers interested in applying the WebWatch guidelines to their own sites can go to The guidelines are also a useful source for consumers as a way to evaluate the quality of Web sites.

In-depth information about methodology and research methods can be found at WebWatch and the Institute will publish ratings of the top three online pharmacies in September 2007.

WebWatch invites feedback and commentary on the ratings at its blog, The UnSponsored Link, at

About Consumer Reports WebWatch

Consumer Reports WebWatch serves as a daily resource of unbiased and trustworthy information, using the proven methods of Consumer Reports and other independently derived research methods. The WebWatch research agenda includes health, financial services, news and information sites, children's sites and general issues of concern to consumers on the Web, such as privacy, spyware and information security. Consumer Reports WebWatch at Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine and, acknowledges support of The Pew Charitable Trusts, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Open Society Institute as instrumental to its founding and first five years of success. WebWatch's investigative reports, articles and news are available to the general public at WebWatch accepts no advertising or corporate support whatsoever. WebWatch serves as a special unpaid adviser to the project of The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and the Oxford Internet Institute. WebWatch director Beau Brendler is a member of the At-Large Advisory Committee to the Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers (ICANN). WebWatch is a member of the W3C Consortium and the Internet Society.

About Consumers Union

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, is an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, CU accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. CU supports itself through the sale of its information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants. Consumer Reports content can be found online at Consumers Union's public policy work can be found online at

Consumers Union also publishes paid-subscription health information print and online products. These were not rated because they are not among the top 20 most-trafficked sites.

About Health Improvement Institute

Health Improvement Institute is a non-profit, tax exempt, 501(c)3, charitable organization dedicated to improving the quality and productivity of America's health care. The Institute's principal program objective is to provide information to enable people to make informed health care choices. The Institute has established expertise in evaluating the quality of health information on the Internet, conducts forms and workshops, and sponsors national awards programs to recognize excellence, including the Aesculapius Award for excellence in health communication. For more information, visit

SOURCE Consumers Union-NY

CONTACT: Beau Brendler of the Consumers Union, +1-914-378-2600


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