Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
August 9, 1999

"A reliable and valid instrument to critique the credibility" of health-related web sites proliferating like kudzu on the World Wide Web has been developed and posted on the Internet by health education faculty and students at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University.

Located on the Internet at, the "Health-Related Web Site Evaluation Form" is primarily intended as a tool for health educators and clinicians who wish to refer patients to quality web sites. Points are assigned to responses to 36 questions which rate site characteristics ranging from evidence of bias, accuracy of information, appropriateness of reading level and technical terms for the intended audience, links, and whether graphics significantly slow downloading. Evaluators respond "disagree" or "agree" to rating characteristics such as the following:

"For sites created by an individual, author's/editor's credentials (educational background, professional affiliations, certifications, past writings, experience) are clearly stated.
"The revision date is recent enough to account for changes in the field."
"Options are available for disabled persons (large print, audio)."

Total points scored from answers to the questions are divided by total points possible to determine a web site's overall rating. Ratings are characterized as "excellent," "adequate" or "poor," with the following explanations:

"Excellent: This web site is an excellent source of health information. Consumers will be able to easily access and understand the information contained in this site. Do not hesitate to recommend this site to your clientele."
"Adequate: While this web site provides relevant information and can be navigated without much trouble, it might not be the best site available. If another source cannot be located, this site will provide good information to your clientele. Care should be taken to discuss with your clientele what information was found on this web site and what information is still needed."
"Poor: This site should not be recommended to your clientele. Validity and reliability of the information cannot be confirmed. All information on the site might not be accessible. Look for another web site to prevent false or partial information from being read."

Rollins School of Public Health alumna Leslie Teach developed the evaluation form as part of her Master of Public Health (MPH) thesis. Ms. Teach is currently working as program manager for the cardiovascular health program for the Georgia Division of Public Health.

"What makes my instrument unique is that it includes a quantitative scale, considers the reading level of the web site with a hyperlink to the SMOG readabilitytest and includes a glossary of possible unfamiliar terms found in the instrument,"Ms. Teach says.

Her thesis advisor, Susan Butler, Ed.D., who has expertise in wellness and is an assistant professor in the department of behavioral sciences and health education, assisted in arranging for the form to be posted on the department's wellness web site, making it available to clinicians, educators -- and the public.

"Consumers can't assume that everything they read on the Internet about health is true," Dr. Butler says. "Before Leslie's evaluation tool, health-related web sites could only be evaluated subjectively by health educators and other health professionals. Leslie's rating form provides an objective method of evaluating health-related web sites by receiving an objective score for credibility. Credibility and the truth are crucial for consumers when their health is at stake."