Event Summary

Evening Rounds 23 enjoyed a compelling presentation from Dr. Julie Robillard (aka @ScientificChick), from the UBC National Core for Neuroethics and the Djavad Mowfaghian Centre for Brain Health.  An assistant professor in Neurology, Dr. Robillard is also a health communications researcher with a keen interest in online health, and she shared some key aspects of her research on #health.


Internet and social media usage increases each year, with users not only seeking health information online (80% of users!), but also sharing health information and self-assessing their health.  Much of the health information available online is neither accurate nor credible, yet a significant portion of people act on that information.  Because good communication plays such a key role in online health, research into the effectiveness of online resources is critical.


Dr. Robillard’s presentation focused on research related to three aspects of online health:
1. What types of health information do people seek online?
2. What types of health information do people share online?
3. What is the quality of online health information?

Different case studies were presented to explore each question.

  • Information seeking → Online information seeking around gene therapy and public perceptions of ethical issues related to gene therapy.
  • Information sharing → Health information sharing on Twitter around dementia.
  • Self assessment → Quality of publically-accessible online tests for Alzheimer disease.

Practical Applications

Research into online health information has implications for clinicians, researchers and health communicators.  Dr. Robillard shared some valuable insights and tips:

  • Pay attention to social media – its reach is broad!
  • Know that many of your patients will have searched online for information of uncertain reliability, will ask you questions about it, and may act on it.
  • Suggest a variety of credible online information sources to your clients, including websites, forums, Facebook groups and people to follow on Twitter.
  • Researchers and communicators
  • Researchers – discuss your findings in the proper context (i.e., model and timeframes), disclose the ethical implications of your research and any conflicts of interest, and use KTE to involve your stakeholders in the discovery process.
  • Communicators – evaluate the benefits and harms of the health information you are putting online, and allow researchers to review the final product before it’s published online.
  • Wording of abstracts, media releases and titles (of posts, articles, etc.) is critical – make sure it correctly represents the research, can be easily interpreted and properly communicated.