How Adolescents Search for and Appraise Online Health Information: A Systematic Review

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Abstract

Objective

To conduct a systematic review of the evidence concerning whether and how adolescents search for online health information and the extent to which they appraise the credibility of information they retrieve.

Study design

A systematic search of online databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, ERIC) was performed. Reference lists of included papers were searched manually for additional articles. Included were studies on whether and how adolescents searched for and appraised online health information, where adolescent participants were aged 13–18 years. Thematic analysis was used to synthesize the findings.

Results

Thirty-four studies met the inclusion criteria. In line with the research questions, 2 key concepts were identified within the papers: whether and how adolescents search for online health information, and the extent to which adolescents appraise online health information. Four themes were identified regarding whether and how adolescents search for online health information: use of search engines, difficulties in selecting appropriate search strings, barriers to searching, and absence of searching. Four themes emerged concerning the extent to which adolescents appraise the credibility of online health information: evaluation based on Web site name and reputation, evaluation based on first impression of Web site, evaluation of Web site content, and absence of a sophisticated appraisal strategy.

Conclusions

Adolescents are aware of the varying quality of online health information. Strategies used by individuals for searching and appraising online health information differ in their sophistication. It is important to develop resources to enhance search and appraisal skills and to collaborate with adolescents to ensure that such resources are appropriate for them.

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