Julia Harlfinger works as medical editor and research associate for Cochrane Austria at the Department for Evidence-based Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology, Danube University Krems. Her academic background is in public health, biology and science communication. Here, she shares information about their website that provides health information to the public in German.
What is www.Medizin-Transparent.at?
It is an online platform. We provide reliable health information in German – which is usually hard to find on the internet, especially for the regular citizen. Every year, we publish 90 articles.
Who is the project’s target audience?
Everyone, but especially lay audiences who are seeking health information online! In 2018, we had 1.5 million site visits. This success was completely unanticipated when Medizin-Transparent started as a small pilot project of two months in 2011. Medizin-Transparent pioneer Bernd Kerschner built everything from scratch and still is head of the team.
How does Medizin-Transparent find its topics?
All members of the public can email their health-related questions, and our team answers them. Therefore, Medizin-Transparent’s topics are user-driven and quite varied, and they often reflect recent developments, such media coverage of cohort studies on cancer, the latest fad diets or political developments. Some of last year’s questions were: "Do ready-made meals cause cancer?" or "Do smoking bans have positive health effects?" In terms of visits, one of our most successful articles deals with the question of whether there are withdrawal symptoms after discontinuation of certain antidepressants. If requested by our readers, we also assess products that are marketed as “good for health” with the help of “scientific studies”. Our conclusions are not always appreciated by the respective companies. We also routinely receive inquiries from the media even though we do not deliver simple messages. Furthermore, we cooperate with the Austrian Consumer’s Association and provide articles for their monthly magazine.
The methods behind Medizin-Transparent?
Our multi-disciplinary team includes 5 members with a quite diverse academic background: medicine, pharmacy, molecular biology, public health, psychology, zoology, science communication, political sciences, history. The team conducts ultra-rapid reviews, synthesizes and grades the evidence. We put an emphasis on presenting facts, numbers and risks appropriately for lay people. Therefore, we follow the 15 criteria of “Good Health Information Practice”, and we are among the first institutions in Austria with our own peer-reviewed methods manual on health communication: https://www.medizin-transparent.at/wp-content/uploads/Methodenpapier-Medizin-transparent_v1.0.pdf. We want transparency to be key in what we do – it should not only be in our name.
What is special about Medizin-Transparent?
It is an open-access website, free for everyone to read. Also, anyone can ask a question free of charge, and our team will answer as many as possible. We receive no industrial sponsorship, and there are no advertisements on our site. Being completely funded by the public through central and federal governmental agencies gives us the much-needed independence and time to produce evidence-based health information. We aim to contribute to enhancing health literacy – which is one of Austria’s health targets.
What lessons do you want to share with other Cochrane Groups?
We are proud that Medizin-Transparent has gained so much visibility and trust. Getting to this stage was a year-long process that required the commitment from Cochrane Austria and the institutions that fund us. We get the impression that citizens appreciate our translational work – even though we quite often report about frustratingly small effect sizes and low certainty of evidence.