An evaluation of general practice websites in the UK
Howitt A., Clement S., De Lusignan S., Thiru K., Goodwin D., Wells S.
Background. General practice websites are an emerging phenomenon, but there have been few critical evaluations of their content. Previously developed rating instruments to assess medical websites have been criticized for failing to report their reliability and validity. Objectives. The purpose of this study was to develop a rating instrument for assessing UK general practice websites, and then to evaluate them critically. Methods. The STaRNet Website Assessment Tool (SWAT) was developed listing criteria that general practice websites may meet, which was then used to evaluate a random sample of websites drawn from an electronic database. A second assessor rated a subsample of the sites to assess the tool's inter-rater reliability. The setting was an information technology group of a general practice research network using a random sample of 108 websites identified from the database. The main outcome measures were identification of rating criteria and frequency counts from the website rating instrument. Results. Ninety (93.3%) sites were accessible, of which 84 were UK general practice websites. Criteria most frequently met were those describing the scope of the website and their functionality. Apart from e-mail to practices, criteria related to electronic communication were rarely met. Criteria relating to the quality of information were least often met. Inter-rater reliability kappa values for the items in the tool ranged from -0.06 to 1.0 (mean 0.59). Values were >0.6 for 15 out of 25 criteria assessed in 40 sites which were rated by two assessors. Conclusions. General practice websites offer a wide range of information. They are technically satisfactory, but do not exploit fully the potential for electronic doctor-patient communication. The quality of information they provide is poor. The instrument may be developed as a template for general practices producing or revising their own websites.