DARTS a valuable concise method to evaluate health information online

health information online

The web is often used to find medical information. An increasing number of individuals, companies and other stakeholders have their own websites. The content of these websites is largely unregulated and the enquirer has no way of telling whether the information is reliable. This makes it impossible to make an informed decision. The information found can be unreliable, unbalanced, wrong and misleading.

A short tool such as DARTS may serve as a valuable reminder to patients to assess information quality when accessing online medicines information. Due to the concise nature of the DARTS tool it may be more user-friendly than other quality assessment tools.

Many Internet users use the Internet for health related purposes, according to a recent study conducted in seven European countries, 71% of Internet users had used the Internet for health purposes.
Existing tools to evaluate online health information are hard to use by Internet users, they are too complicated and consumers may lack understanding, time, energy and interest to use these tools in practice. That way it is hard to find accurate and high quality medicines information for those seeking this kind of information on the Internet. It is difficult for consumers to access good quality health information

In a recent published research patients with depression were chosen to investigate the use of a simple quality assessment tool for the investigation of the role of the Internet as a source of information about antidepressants.

The aim of this study

The aims of this study were to investigate how people with depression assess the quality of online medicines information and to study their perceptions of the DARTS tool.

This tool is called DARTS. It comes down to the answers to 5 questions of which DARTS is an acronym:

  • Date, when was the information updated/
  • Author, who is the writer? Is he/she qualified?
  • Reference, are the references and sources of content valid?
  • Type, what is the purpose of the site?
  • Sponsor, is the site sponsored and, if so, by whom?

How was this study done?

Twenty-nine Internet users with depression from the capital area volunteered to participate in the study (26 female, 3 male). Six focus group discussions (67–109 min duration) were conducted across metropolitan Helsinki between February and April 2007. The same independent moderator conducted all focus groups and ensured all participants had an equal opportunity to engage in the discussion. Two assisting researchers observed and took notes. After obtaining written informed consent from all participants, each focus group was digitally audiotaped. Participants also completed a short survey instrument to gather demographic data and details about previous Internet usage. Data were collected and analysed until saturation was received: the same themes emerged recurrently, and no new ideas were provided.


  • Participants did not systematically assess the quality of the information obtained.
  • No participants were familiar with previously developed quality assessment tools.
  • Participants were however, concerned about not being properly able to assess the quality of online medicines information.
  • Most participants believed that the DARTS tool would assist them to discriminate between high and low quality online medicines information.
  • Perceived strengths of the DARTS tool were its short length, concise nature and coverage of relevant issues.
  • Participants stated that the DARTS tool could be disseminated via magazines, pharmacies, physicians’ offices, the Internet, mental health care clinics, pharmaceutical company websites, libraries, schools, universities and campaigns on television.

Disadvantages of DARTS:

Disadvantages perceived by the participants included that DARTS would be too time-consuming to use in practice, that the criteria required further explanation to be properly useable, and that the DARTS criteria should be in your head and not on paper.

Related post on this blog:
Assess Health Information Online

Ulla Närhi, Marika Pohjanoksa-Mäntylä, Anna Karjalainen, Johanna K. Saari, Hannes Wahlroos, Marja S. Airaksinen, Simon J. Bell (2008). The DARTS tool for assessing online medicines information Pharmacy World & Science, 30 (6), 898-906 DOI: 10.1007/s11096-008-9249-9