Informational content, literacy demands, and usability of websites offering health-related genetic tests directly to consumers

Christina R. Lachance, Lori A.H. Erby, Beth M. Ford, Vincent C. Allen, Kimberly A. Kaphingst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

PURPOSE: As direct-to-consumer genetic testing becomes more available, a diverse group of consumers, including those with limited health literacy, may consider testing. In light of concerns raised about direct-to-consumer genetic testing, this study sought to critically examine whether the informational content, literacy demands, and usability of health-related direct-to-consumer websites met existing recommendations. METHODS: A content analysis was performed on 29 health-related direct-to-consumer websites. Two coders independently evaluated each website for informational content (e.g., benefits, limitations), literacy demands (e.g., reading level), and usability (e.g., ease of navigation). RESULTS: Most sites presented health conditions and some markers for which they tested, benefits of testing, a description of the testing process, and their privacy policy. Fewer cited scientific literature, explained test limitations, or provided an opportunity to consult a health professional. Key informational content was difficult to locate on most sites. Few sites gave sample disease risk estimates or used common language and explained technical terms consistently. Average reading level was grade 15. CONCLUSION: The quality of informational content, literacy demands, and usability across health-related direct-to-consumer websites varied widely. Many users would struggle to find and understand the important information. For consumers to better understand the content on these sites and evaluate the meaning of the tests for their health, sites should lower the demands placed on users by distilling and prioritizing the key informational content while simultaneously attending to the reading level and usability elements. In the absence of regulation compelling such changes, government agencies or professional organizations may need to increase consumer and provider awareness of these issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-312
Number of pages9
JournalGenetics in Medicine
Volume12
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2010

Keywords

  • Direct-to-consumer
  • Genetic testing
  • Health literacy
  • Internet
  • Usability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)

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