Accuracy of Health and Wellness Messages Provided by ChaCha, the Mobile Answers Text Message Service

Article excerpt

Introduction

From simple questions to complex, answers are now just a few key-strokes away. The internet serves as a reference for just about everything, from checking scores of ballgames to assisting in major medical decisions. Search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, provide a vast number of sites to sift through to find information. The question that must be asked is whether such information is accurate.

Along with the rise of the internet, cell phone usage is also skyrocketing. A study conducted by EDUCASE Center for Applied Research found that nearly 85 percent of all college students carry a cell phone.1 Originally intended as wireless phone service, cell phones have evolved greatly to have the capability to download music and ringtones, surf the net, and send text and photo messages. Although EDUCASE reports only 19% of Americans use smartphones that allow for downloading learning material, (1) that number is likely to increase substantially. With the combination of the internet and cell phone usage, search engines including Google have initiated computer-automated text message answer services. (2,3)

A relatively new mobile text message service, ChaCha, describes itself as "a smart search engine powered by human intelligence". (3) ChaCha is a relatively free service (meaning you only pay if your cell phone service charges a text fee) powered by guides who quickly navigate and filter through websites to find an answer. The value of ChaCha is that consumers who do not have access to the internet can quickly use their cell phone to find an answer to virtually anything by texting their question to ChaCha (242242). The service claims to provide only high"quality, accurate information, yet there is no published research to date substantiating this claim.

Literature Review

Accuracy of health education information disseminated via the World Wide Web

The Internet has changed the way Americans obtain information and make personal decisions. The Pew Internet Project estimates that 74% of American adults use the Internet. According to the December 2007 survey, 75% search online for health information.4 This estimate has grown from January 2001, where 55% of American adults with Internet access have used the Web to get health or medical information. (4)

Concern remains evident through various studies (5,6) regarding the quality of information, and the credibility of Web sites which disseminate health information. Additionally, as the Internet evolves and grows, so does the number of people searching for health information. Health practitioners receive numerous questions from patients regarding information they have encountered online. Integration of online sources with patient education is a new area of development for some practitioners, but challenges remain in guiding patients to reliable and accurate web"sites. (7)

The evaluation of health information on the Internet has been recognized by various groups and guidelines have been developed, (5,8) however, a specific set of standards is yet to exist. (9,10) The National Institutes on Health has created a specific list of guidelines for ensuring the quality of information disseminated to the public online. (11) Healthy People 2010 has incorporated a new goal of communication objectives, a measure of increasing adequate quality information on the Internet. (12)

In December 2007, a group of eight pediatric dermatologists examined the accuracy and completeness of information on a specific topic by searching Google. Only four sites of 50 evaluated were considered accurate and complete enough for the dermatologists to recommend them to their patients. The results of that study are consistent with others that have viewed medical information on the Web. (13)

A study published in the May 22, 2002, Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed the quality of consumer health information on the World Wide Web. …