With a rapid growth of technology and a convenient access to the Internet from electronic devices, it has become less challenging for an individual to find information. The Internet provides information instantly when one simply types in; however, the downside of it is that one needs to be cautious when finding a source because not every piece of information can be trusted. It is not uncommon for an individual to search up health information online. In fact, 8 out of 10 Americans who have access to the Internet look up health related questions according to Pew Internet and American Life Project Health Online survey (McGonigle & Mastrian, 2017). Whether an individual gains an accurate answer or not depends on the reliability and validity of the website.
Approximately 1 in 3 American adults are diagnosed with hypertension, but only about half of them manage the condition (CDC, 2016). High blood pressure may not sound as threatening or scary as a heart attack, but it is a very serious condition that contributes to the cause of many other diseases such as heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes. The website that is going to be evaluated is known as WebMD and its link is as follows: https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/default.htm. The reason for choosing this website is because this website is one of the most well-known sources for health-related information and also appear toward the top of the search list when one searches up hypertension on Google search engine.
Comprehensive Website Evaluation
WebMD has made its health contents available to the public at free cost; in order to achieve this, it obtains sponsorships from different commercial organizations that provide health information. However, the website differentiates its own content from a sponsored content by indicating “From our sponsor,” “Sponsored by,” or “Promoted by,” and labeling the heading as sponsor content (WebMD, 2016b). In the hypertension category, there is a link at the bottom of each section that directs to the sponsored content. The sponsor content pops up when one clicks on it, but it is still within the WebMD site. Some of the sponsors are universities (The Ohio State University and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) and pharmaceutical companies related (Zantac, XIAFLEX, and BYDUREON) (WebMD, 2017d).
Besides sponsorships, WebMD may also suggest that certain contents are made available with collaboration from third parties, such as advertisements, that support the website. There are approximately four to seven advertisements within the website. It is possible for the users to get confused with the actual material as some of the advertisements are displayed in the middle of the content. Some of the advertisement are drug related, such as Jardiance and Tylenol, or medical condition related, like diabetes, addiction, and sleep apnea (WebMD, 2017d). Some contributing factors that may lead to the development of hypertension are diabetes, sleep apnea and addiction problems, such as smoking and drinking (WebMD, 2017a). From this given information, it appears that the advertisements are related to hypertension to some extent. However, because pharmaceutical companies are involved in the advertisements, there can be potential bias, even though WebMD claims its contents are free from sponsor and advertiser influences (WebMD, 2017b).
The website’s general mission is to offer reliable and detailed health information and provide a supportive community to the public through electronic access (WebMD, 2014b). WebMD contains countless information related to medical conditions, drugs and supplements, pregnancy, and self-care such as diet, fitness, balance, and hygiene. Hypertension content consists of an overview, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, care (medicines) and management (lifestyles); it also assists in finding a cardiologist and has answers to frequently asked questions and news related to hypertension. Furthermore, there are extra pieces of information, which seem to encourage community engagement and learning by adopting different ways to present the information: slideshows, quizzes, videos, and discussion board (WebMD, 2017d).
It produces a new content using many different sources; there is a list of references at the bottom in each part of the content. Some major original sources of information WebMD utilizes for hypertension material include government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Others include non-profit organizations, such as the American Heart Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American College of Cardiology, and university hospitals, like Mount Sinai Medical Center, Georgetown University Medical Center, and University of Maryland Medical Center (WebMD, 2017d).
According to McGonigle and Mastrian (2017), reliable sources are more likely to come from websites with the domain names that include government (.gov), university (.edu), and healthcare organization sites (.org). Even though WebMD carries a commercial domain (.com), its contents can be considered as accurate because it uses information and peer-reviewed articles from the government, university, and healthcare organization sites to create its own content (WebMD, 2017b).
What makes WebMD more reliable is that it has accreditations. Some certifications and accreditations that are associated with credible health sites are the HONcode and Trust-e (McGonigle ; Mastrian, 2017). WebMD has been certified with the HONcode for the last 18 years with initial date of review on February in 2000 and the certificate is valid until January 2020 (HON Foundation, n.d.). Although it is unsure when the initial review held for Trust-e seal, WebMD has been certified by Trust-e as well. In addition, the website has also gained e-health accreditation from URAC, which is also previously known as the American HealthCare Accreditation Association. Obtaining URAC seal represents that the website provides quality information and its health information is valid (WebMD, 2016a).
Any information that gets uploaded to the site is reviewed in prior to posting. Health reporters work with medical staffs, and the article gets reviewed by physician editor staffs for accuracy and medical language use. After the process, the content is reviewed again by an editorial editor before it is finally published to the website. After the original post, the content undergoes corrections if necessary. If there is an error or new findings, WebMD updates and links to the corrected version of the content and indicates what corrections have been made for the user’s reference (WebMD, 2014a, 2017b).
Each section of the hypertension content has been reviewed by different physicians and on different dates. Most, including general overview, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, care and management, were reviewed and updated in 2017; other section, such as diagnosis and tests, was revised in 2018 (WebMD, 2017d). One possible explanation for this recent update might be related to new hypertension guidelines released by American Heart Association in late 2017. It is evident that the website revises its content and tries to provide up-to-date and valid information to the public.
WebMD is designed in a way that any user can access to information he/she desires without much effort. The site is largely divided into three sections. The left column directly links to specific sections of hypertension content, the right column suggests health articles and resources related to the condition, and major texts are contained at the center of the website. The main articles are written in an appropriate, legible, and bold printing that make it easier for most users to read. The website also uses everyday language rather than using a medical terminology, and if the editor uses a medical jargon, he/she explains what the word implies after the usage. Even though anyone can access to the website, it states that WebMD is not designed for anyone under 13 years old and certain content, such as chat service, is for anyone above 18 years or older to operate (WebMD, 2017c, 2018).
The website makes it clear that WebMD only serves informational and educational purposes and does not provide any medical advice. It is noted on the website that the information should not replace healthcare professional’s medical advice, diagnosis, and
treatment. WebMD also suggests seeking healthcare providers for any questions or advice related to medical condition and the individual should never ignore the advice due to contrary findings from the website (WebMD, 2017b).
With many health information made available from the Internet, it has become more difficult to distinguish the validity of the information. WebMD is one of the health websites that attempts to provide reliable information by retrieving its information from the government and healthcare organizations. The site is also certified and accredited, which makes its contents extra reliable and give trust to the users. Its content undergoes a series of review by medical and editorial staffs before publication and also gets revised when new findings are available to offer current information. Even though its contents are trustworthy, WebMD makes it clear that the website is only for informational purpose and should not be used to substitute healthcare provider’s advice. The website contains sponsor and advertiser contents that may distract users; however, removing these contents seems inevitable as this is what allows the website to share its own content with the public without any charge. The use of the website is intended for anyone above 13 years old, despite the fact that anyone can access to the website. If an individual decides to use WebMD to look up health information, he/she should be aware of automatic data collection upon the use of the website.