Toward automated assessment of health Web page quality using the DISCERN instrument

Ahmed Allam, Peter J. Schulz, Michael Krauthammer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: As the Internet becomes the number one destination for obtaining health-related information, there is an increasing need to identify health Web pages that convey an accurate and current view of medical knowledge. In response, the research community has created multicriteria instruments for reliably assessing online medical information quality. One such instrument is DISCERN, which measures health Web page quality by assessing an array of features. In order to scale up use of the instrument, there is interest in automating the quality evaluation process by building machine learning (ML)-based DISCERN Web page classifiers. Objective: The paper addresses 2 key issues that are essential before constructing automated DISCERN classifiers: (1) generation of a robust DISCERN training corpus useful for training classification algorithms, and (2) assessment of the usefulness of the current DISCERN scoring schema as a metric for evaluating the performance of these algorithms. Methods: Using DISCERN, 272 Web pages discussing treatment options in breast cancer, arthritis, and depression were evaluated and rated by trained coders. First, different consensus models were compared to obtain a robust aggregated rating among the coders, suitable for a DISCERN ML training corpus. Second, a new DIS-CERN scoring criterion was proposed (features-based score) as an ML performance metric that is more reflective of the score distribution across different DISCERN quality criteria. Results: First, we found that a probabilistic consensus model applied to the DISCERN instrument was robust against noise (random ratings) and superior to other approaches for building a training corpus. Second, we found that the established DISCERN scoring schema (overall score) is ill-suited to measure ML performance for automated classifiers. Conclusion: Use of a probabilistic consensus model is advantageous for building a training corpus for the DISCERN instrument, and use of a features-based score is an appropriate ML metric for automated DISCERN classifiers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-487
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Medical Informatics Association
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author 2016.


  • Consensus model
  • Discern
  • Health information quality
  • Multicriteria instrument


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