Open Access Research article

Internet-based health education in China: a content analysis of websites

Ying Peng1, Xi Wu1, Salla Atkins2, Merrick Zwarentein23, Ming Zhu1, Xing Xin Zhan1, Fan Zhang1, Peng Ran1 and Wei Rong Yan12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China

2 Division of Global Health, Department of Public Health Science, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

3 Knowledge Translation Unit, University of Cape Town Lung Institute, Cape Town, South Africa

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:16  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-16

Published: 27 January 2014



The Internet is increasingly being applied in health education worldwide; however there is little knowledge of its use in Chinese higher education institutions. The present study provides the first review and highlights the deficiencies and required future advances in Chinese Internet-based health education.


Two authors independently conducted a duplicate Internet search in order to identify information regarding Internet-based health education in China.


The findings showed that Internet-based education began in China in September 1998. Currently, only 16 of 150 (10.7%) health education institutions in China offer fee-based online undergraduate degree courses, awarding associates and/or bachelors degrees. Fifteen of the 16 institutions were located in the middle or on the eastern coast of China, where were more developed than other regions. Nursing was the most popular discipline in Internet-based health education, while some other disciplines, such as preventive medicine, were only offered at one university. Besides degree education, Chinese institutions also offered non-degree online training and free resources. The content was mainly presented in the form of PowerPoint slides or videos for self-learning. Very little online interactive mentoring was offered with any of the courses.


There is considerable potential for the further development of Internet-based health education in China. These developments should include a focus on strengthening cooperation among higher education institutions in order to develop balanced online health curricula, and on enhancing distance education in low- and middle-income regions to meet extensive learning demands.