Open Access Research article

Italian hospitals on the web: a cross-sectional analysis of official websites

Giovanni Maifredi1, Grazia Orizio1*, Maura Bressanelli1, Serena Domenighini1, Cinzia Gasparotti1, Eleonora Perini1, Luigi Caimi2, Peter J Schulz3 and Umberto Gelatti1

Author Affiliations

1 Section of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Public Health, Department of Experimental and Applied Medicine, University of Brescia, Brescia, Italy

2 "Quality and Technology Assessment, Governance and Communication Strategies in Health Systems" Study and Research Centre, University of Brescia, Brescia, Italy

3 Institute of Communication and Care, University of Lugano, Lugano, Switzerland

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2010, 10:17  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-10-17

Published: 1 April 2010

Abstract

Background

Although the use of the Internet for health purposes has increased steadily in the last decade, only a few studies have explored the information provided by the websites of health institutions and no studies on the on-line activities of Italian hospitals have been performed to date. The aim of this study was to explore the characteristics of the contents and the user-orientation of Italian hospital websites.

Methods

The cross-sectional analysis considered all the Italian hospitals with a working website between December 2008 and February 2009. The websites were coded using an ad hoc Codebook, comprising eighty-nine items divided into five sections: technical characteristics, hospital information and facilities, medical services, interactive on-line services and external activities. We calculated a website evaluation score, on the basis of the items satisfied, to compare private (PrHs) and public hospitals, the latter divided into ones with their own website (PubHs-1) and ones with a section on the website of their Local Health Authority (PubHs-2). Lastly, a descriptive analysis of each item was carried out.

Results

Out of the 1265 hospitals in Italy, we found that 419 of the 652 public hospitals (64.3%) and 344 of the 613 PrHs (56.1%) had a working website (p = 0.01). The mean website evaluation score was 41.9 for PubHs-1, 21.2 for PubHs-2 and 30.8 for PrHs (p < 0.001).

Only 5 hospitals out of 763 (< 1%) provided specific clinical performance indicators, such as the nosocomial infection rate or the surgical mortality rates. Regarding interactive on-line services, although nearly 80% of both public and private hospitals enabled users to communicate on-line, less than 18% allowed the reservation of medical services, and only 8 websites (1%) provided a health-care forum.

Conclusions

A high percentage of hospitals did not provide an official website and the majority of the websites found had several limitations. Very few hospitals provided information to increase the credibility of the hospital and user confidence in the institution. This study suggests that Italian hospital websites are more a source of information on admissions and services than a means of communication between user and hospital.