Judging and assuring quality in health information

QualityThe better the quality of health information, the more useful, relevant and accessible it is, and the more effective it will be in encouraging shared decision making, self care, long-term condition management and informed choice.

As health information becomes increasingly recognised as an integral part of healthcare, the need to be able to understand, identify and measure quality has grown.

There is currently no single source for judging or assuring quality in health information. On these pages we review key issues and have gathered together a range of examples of the kinds of resources that might help.

Different resources suit different situations, and not every resource will be relevant to your needs. However, we hope it helps to have this information together in one place so you can identify things that most suit your needs.

Jump to (on this page):

Other pages in this section of the site:

Who is this information for?

Woman reading ebookThe information contained on these web pages is for people with questions like these:

  1. How can I tell whether health information is high quality?
  2. How can I be sure health information I signpost to is of high quality?
  3. How can I ensure health information I develop is consistently of high quality?
  4. What quality marks and accreditation schemes are there?
  5. What are the relevant regulations and penalties?

It is written mostly for people whose work involves creating health information for patients and the general public, and for people who signpost to consumer health information or support people to use it.

If you’re looking for health information for your own personal use, the links in the ‘Judging quality’ section probably provide the most useful information and the best starting point.

Defining qualityHighlighting quality

It helps, of course, to know what we mean by ‘quality’. With health information, there are two main ways to think about this:

  • The quality of the resource itself – the features of high-quality information, what high-quality information looks like, what we’re aiming for
  • Quality in the creation process – procedures to follow when planning, creating, reviewing and updating health information to ensure the end product consistently meets high standards

PIF’s best practice highlights key indicators of quality as information that has involved users in its development, is clearly communicated, is accurate and reliable, and has impact and relevance.

Examples of useful resources:

Judging quality

Join in the Quality Assurance discussionSome things are hard to judge just by looking at a piece of information. For example, you can’t necessarily tell for sure whether it’s accurate, impartial or based on the best available evidence.

So how can you work out which information to trust?

  1. Look for quality marks like ‘The Information Standard’ or ‘Health on the Net Foundation’s HONcode’, or the NHS brand.
  2. Use ready-made tools that guide you through the process of judging quality, such as ‘DISCERN’, the ‘International ‘Patient Decision Aid Standards (IPDAS)’ and Health on the Net Foundation’s Health website evaluation tool.
  3. Find out which UK patient groups represent people with the condition you’re researching and see what information and support they make available.
  4. Find out what other people think of information you’ve come across – for example patient groups recommend and comment on apps at the site ’My health apps’.
  5. Check the date the information was produced and when it is due to be updated. Can you find references to the evidence that was used as a base for the information? Who was involved in creating the information, has it been reviewed by medical experts? Find out more about other best practice principles for creating high quality health information on the PIF Toolkit here.

Other tried and trusted ways to judge quality for yourself are suggested in the links below.

Tips on judging quality

Tips on assessing media coverage:

Top tips

Community activityThe ultimate judge of quality is the target audience.

Guidelines and standards highlight the importance of involving audiences at all key stages, from deciding what is needed, through to content development, design, dissemination and evaluation.

In an increasingly crowded health information market, using quality marks, standards and other forms of endorsement may be an important way to get noticed, be competitive and reach out to patients and the public.

Assessing quality has the potential to become a ‘box-ticking’ exercise – find ways to ensure it is a meaningful process and that you act on the results.

It’s not always necessary to create information from scratch. If a suitable resource exists already, you may be able to avoid duplicating effort by re-purposing content from high-quality sources (eg NHS Choices – Syndication).

Wikis enable a community of users to generate content collaboratively, with users being able to add or edit content themselves. Wikipedia is perhaps the best known wiki.

ALISS is another. ALISS signposts people to resources on health and wellbeing that are available locally in Scotland. It enables communities to contribute information about the resources they have to offer, such as groups, activities, events and services. Potential benefits of this inclusive and integrative approach, when managed well, include generating content that’s rich, varied, up-to-date, sustainable and relevant. It can also encourage partnership and collaboration.

An important measure of an information resource’s quality is its impact. PIF’s Making the case for information sets out evidence for the benefits of providing high-quality health information and support.

It’s not just the quality of a resource that affects its impact. It’s also important to ensure information gets to the right people at the right time, by integrating information provision and healthcare delivery along the patient journey.

Research shows that consumer health information has the greatest effects when tailored (as far as possible) to an individual’s needs, preferences and circumstances throughout their ‘patient journey’.

Improving access to, and understanding of, high-quality health information is integral to delivering high-quality person-centred healthcare that places a premium on enhancing patient experience.

Acknowledgments and feedback

PIF thanks everyone who helped with the the development of this page, including the following:

  • Shilpa Belliappa, Message Board Manager, ChildLine
  • Katherine Benjamin, Digital Services Manager, Digital Technology, NHS England
  • Jonathan Berry, Personalisation & Control Specialist, NHS England
  • Gary Birkenhead, Improvement Advisor (Information and Support), Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Célia Boyer, Executive Director, Health On the Net Foundation
  • Arlene Campbell, National Partnership & Consumer Engagement Manager, Health Information Services, NHS 24, Scotland
  • Dr Angela Coulter, Senior Research Scientist, University of Oxford
  • Kim Diprose, Information & Support Programme Manager, Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Simon Dixon, Digital Services Manager, NHS England
  • Joanna Dundon, National Lead for Knowledge Management, NHS Wales Informatics Service
  • Rachel Jones, Patient Lead/Behavioural Change Specialist, AstraZeneca
  • Linsey Jönsson, Organisational Lead for Publishing Services, NHS Health Scotland
  • Tony Newbold, Writer of Patient Support Materials
  • Alison Paul, Deputy Library and Knowledge Services Manage, Health Sciences Library, Ashford and St Peter’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • Joanna Swanson, Person-Centred and Quality Team, Healthcare Quality and Strategy Directorate, The Scottish Government
  • Victoria Thomas, Head of Public Involvement, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
  • Rob Turpin, Healthcare Market Development Manager, British Standards Institution (BSI)
  • Dan Wills, Assessment and Development Manager, NHS England
  • Patient Support and Participation Team, Scottish Government


This section of the PIF website has been updated, researched and written by Louise Coghlin.

Louise is a freelance writer and editor specialising in health, wellbeing and life sciences. She is committed to producing high-quality information that fulfils people’s needs and enables everyone to live as healthily and happily as possible. She has a degree in biochemistry and over 20 years’ experience working with publishers, charities, pharmaceutical companies and communications agencies.

We’d also like to acknowledge the contribution of Sarah Smith who created the original content for these web pages.

If you have any suggestions on way to improve this page, please do let us know by getting in touch with PIF here. We would welcome your input.

Last updated March 2016