Health Information Week: Health and digital literacy

Kyle Brady
Wednesday 3 July 2019

Continuing this week’s series of posts highlighting Open Access research we’ve discovered some reported novel findings [1]. helps users resolve ailments most of us would rather not talk about, e.g. hiccups. It’s like an anonymous version of Embarrasing Bodies. The site has a feature that collects feedback from users on whether they’ve successfully tackled the problem using the advice provided.


Analysis was done on a dataset of 100,561 responses collected over an 82-month period. The data was modelled and the probability model tested before deriving the headline result – “Online health information can help tackle ’embarassing’ health problems”.

… the successful resolution of piles, crab lice, and chronic diarrhea are high in our dataset, reflecting the relative ease with which these problems can be tackled with readily available proprietary medical products. Others, such as profuse sweating, blushing and flushing, and bed-wetting in adults are medically less tractable problems and, consequently, show much lower rates of resolution.

There is a useful discussion on the limitations of the data and the relationship between online medical information resources and professional medics like GPs, as well as the potential benefits to users seeking help with problems perceived as embarrasing. The authors acknowledge their research could help the site editors improve help and support in areas where users reported less successful outcomes.

Users of Unpaywall or Open Access Button can download a copy of the peer-reviewed accepted manuscript from the St Andrews Research Repository, which can also be downloaded direct

Readers with a subscription can access the article on Science Direct

[1] Redston, S, de Botte, S & Smith, C 2018, ‘Resolving embarrassing medical conditions with online health information’ International Journal of Medical Informatics, vol. 114, pp. 101-105.

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