To judge the quality of health information provided to the users of the NHS Direct online enquiry service.
An examination of available online tools was necessary to enable the development of a quality framework appropriate for the study. The checklist developed from this process provided a method of judging a specific web site's quality level. Readability levels of web sites were measured using the Flesch‐Kincaid scale. Two case studies were conducted to examine consistency of responses, and in order to measure user satisfaction questionnaires were distributed.
Results from the checklist indicated that the majority of health information sent on to users of the service was of adequate or excellent quality. The readability levels of information promoted by the NHS Direct Online enquiry service are at levels higher than is recommended in the literature. The case studies implied that the criteria used by the NHS in composing responses to enquiries is not always consistent and may need streamlining. Despite this, 97 per cent of respondents were happy with the information sent to them. A combination of user satisfaction and referral to adequate or excellent quality health web sites suggests that the NHS is providing a good quality information service to the British public.
It is difficult to draw reliable conclusions from the small sample size employed in this study. It is also unfortunate that the respondents could not be interviewed or observed as they submitted their enquiry and while they examined web pages. The checklist developed to measure web site quality could, in itself, bring limitations, no weighting factors were employed when comparing criteria and the researcher felt that some of the criteria were hard to judge in practice.
The NHS need to undertake some streamlining of their e‐mail enquiry service so that all the web sites it promotes contain health information that is at a good or excellent quality level.
Examination of a practical health service which purports to help improve the quality of NHS health provision.
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