Trust and credibility in web-based information: A review and agenda for future research is relevant to healthcare professionals, students and patients in healthcare environments

As the Australian and Nursing Midwifery Accreditation Council head towards publication of the new standards, I was pondering progress of the use of technology in healthcare environments. Consultation papers 1 (2017) and 2 (2018) indicate that the developing capability of health technology and informatics will remain central to learning and teaching of undergraduate nurses and the objective of becoming digital professionals within healthcare environments. This article from the archive is worth reading to reiterate the importance of trust and credibility of information retrieved from web-based sources.

An article by Sbaffi and Rowley (2017) titled Trust and credibility in web-based information: A review and agenda for future research is relevant to healthcare professionals, students and patients in healthcare environments.  As the access and use to digital information via mobile or devices portable devices increases there will be a need to ensure the information being accessed for use is trust-worthy and credible.  These authors profiled the research on trust and credibility in health-information seeking from 2000 to present. They found 3827 records that matched their systematic review inclusion criteria and examined 73 studies. The authors report there is no agreement how trust and credibility is measured among different authors.  They also found formation, coherence and comprehensiveness are still to be achieved. They found trust and credibility was used as an independent or dependent variable or demographic factors that influenced the role of trust or credibility. Design and content features influence trust formation as does functionality, customer service and affiliations. Less work has been undertaken on the negative aspects of design features.  However authors reported that explicit advertising on health websites was the least desirable visual feature. Of content features authority of the author and their expertise was important as was the intelligibility based on users’ perceptions. Readability, familiarity, currency, triangulation, and usefulness also influenced credibility. Risk is associated with trust and negative content aspects were more limited as less attention has been paid to this aspect of digital knowledge acquisition. Of those it seems quality of information was a criteria reported by end-users. Once again, the concept of quality is not standardised. Of the demographic variable Sbaffi and Rowley (2017) indicated the young and the old view web-based information differently, with the former being more confident in their discerning of credible information than older persons. Better Internet skills has also been linked with less trust in health information. The authors did also report that adolescents had similar issues to older persons in evaluating health information which were further exacerbated by low functional, critical and interactive literacy skills. The authors also raise the issue of a shift of trust from the members of the healthcare sector to artificial agents and there is currently no standard that exemplifies how to make trust decisions in health.


As supervisors of students this is important to know.  It means that information gained from the Internet needs to be scrutinised before it is used for learning and teaching or at point of care.  Confirming sources is necessary to ensure best practice is not violated or organisational policy is not breached by an ‘alternative fact’ that is erroneous. Remaining contemporary in current practice will ameliorate much of the risk, however, it is omnipresent while individuals have different capability and access to using the Internet for personal and work-related business. Much of the responsibility in healthcare environments will rest with nurses and  nurse supervisors managing, filtering and assessing information discussed with students or patients.  Therefore it is vital that health professionals are educationally prepared and have the capability to assess credibility of information and be able to guide others in this process.


If you have any comments about the credibility or trust of digital information for knowledge transfer you are welcome to post them here.  Please join us @PEPCommunity.


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