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Examining the quality of smoking cessation interventions available through the internet Murphy, Caroline Cathrine

Abstract

Background: The Internet promises to be an effective vehicle for widespread delivery of Web-assisted tobacco use cessation interventions. Little is known regarding the quality of information available or the usefulness of search tools, such as gateways, in enabling consumers access to accurate and credible cessation information. The purpose of the study was to describe the quality of online tobacco use cessation information available through the World Wide Web (WWW), to compare content of websites retrieved through different search tools, and determine the relationship between standard criteria and evidence-based criteria for smoking cessation interventions available through the Internet. Methods: Web sites purporting to provide self-help smoking cessation information were identified using three search tools; 1) search engine (google.com), 2) private gateway (allhealthnet.com), and 3) public gateway (canadian-health-network.ca, healthfinder.gov). Two independent reviewers rated sites using a 34-item checklist, designed to measure the presence of standard criteria for health information and evidence-based information for treating tobacco use; web site scores were calculated to judge quality of information and conduct analyses. A l l sites were selected and reviewed between February and April, 2004. Results: 120 sites were evaluated; the mean total quality score was 0.57 (range = 0.09 to 0.92). Mean total scores differed significantly between search tools (p = 0.02); post-hoc comparisons (Bonferonni correction) did not detect a difference in total quality scores between the three search tools. Linear regression analysis demonstrated that evidence-based score was a significant (p < 0.1) predictor of standard score, with a coefficient of determination of 0.26. Discussion: The type and content of tobacco use cessation information available is extremely variable, and is not dependent on the search tool used to access the web site. Findings question the utility and effectiveness of standard criteria to measure informational content, and highlight the importance of research into the effectiveness of Web-assisted tobacco use cessation interventions, and developing policies to guide consumers to useful information.

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