Background: This paper describes the Judge project, the aim of which was to explore the need for health website quality assessment guidelines for the voluntary sector. Such guidelines would enable health consumers to assess the quality of health sites and assist support groups to produce their own good quality sites. The project was a partnership between the Information Management Research Institute, School of Informatics, Northumbria University and Contact a Family. It was supported by the Health Foundation.
Methods: The views of health consumers and support group members and workers were obtained by focus groups (35 attendees) and questionnaires (55 responses). They were asked questions about quality issues and concerns about Internet health information and any help they needed with judging the quality of health websites.
Results: The results supported the need for guidelines. The guidelines were written to reflect the requirements of health consumers and support groups articulated from the focus group and questionnaire data. They were then disseminated via a website.
Conclusions: There is a need to improve communication and information exchange between health consumers and professionals and official organizations; publicise support groups to patients and carers; set up local Webs of Trust, linking together voluntary and statutory organizations within a locality. Professionals and official organizations in the public sector should make information provision to patients and health consumers a priority. Information provision should be embedded in the clinical setting via guidelines, protocols and administrative structures. Professionals should be trained in the role of information and how to provide it in appropriate ways. Support groups should use the Judge guidelines to assist them in producing good quality websites. Support groups should promote the Judge guidelines to health consumers, to help them make their own quality judgement about health-information websites.