gms | German Medical Science

GMS Zeitschrift für Medizinische Ausbildung

Gesellschaft für Medizinische Ausbildung (GMA)

ISSN 1860-3572

Homepages of German medical faculties – an overview

review article medicine

  • corresponding author Olaf Kuhnigk - Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Prodekanat für Lehre, Hamburg, Deutschland; Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Klinik und Poliklinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Hamburg, Deutschland
  • Daniela Tiller - Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Institut für Biochemie und Molekulare Zellbilogie, Zentrum für Experimentelle Medizin, Hamburg, Deutschland
  • author Sigrid Harendza - Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, III. Medizinische Klinik, Hamburg, Deutschland
  • author Wolfgang Hampe - Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, Institut für Biochemie und Molekulare Zellbilogie, Zentrum für Experimentelle Medizin, Hamburg, Deutschland

GMS Z Med Ausbild 2012;29(4):Doc59

doi: 10.3205/zma000829, urn:nbn:de:0183-zma0008290

This is the translated version of the article.
The original version can be found at: http://www.egms.de/de/journals/zma/2012-29/zma000829.shtml

Received: January 6, 2012
Revised: February 26, 2012
Accepted: March 8, 2012
Published: August 8, 2012

© 2012 Kuhnigk et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/deed.en). You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.


Abstract

Introduction: The Internet represents a central communication medium for patients and physicians. Some national information is available regarding the design of physicians‘ homepages and patient requirements regarding homepages of physicians in private practice. To date, no data are available for homepages of medical faculties and their users‘ needs.

Methods: In 2008 the homepages of the 36 German medical faculties were analyzed according to a catalogue of 128 criteria assigned to five domains which had been developed from the literature. Structure, content and extent were compared.

Results: The homepages covered the criteria to a very different extent. The best homepage reached 80%, the worst only 26% of the achievable points. The mean was slightly above 50% . Faculties addressed mainly applicants and students as their target groups, less frequently lecturers and alumni.

Conclusion: This study shows differences in quality and quantity of the „teaching section“ on websites of medical faculties. The results allow faculties to use the criteria to adjust their websites with regard to addressing the relevant target groups of students, applicants, lecturers and alumni comprehensively.

Keywords: internet, websites, medical faculties, medical education, students


Introduction

In recent years the Internet has become established as a central communication medium in the public health sector for both physicians and patients [6], [8], [9], [12]. There is some information available in Germany on how to design websites for physicians [1] and what patients expect regarding the Web presence of private practices [9], [10], [13]. However, there are no data available regarding the Internet presence of medical schools and the requirements of their target groups. This is surprising, since Duma and Hecht [4] (page 2) have come to the conclusion that the significance of a university’s Internet presence — its virtual business card — cannot be overrated. The few available studies of university websites generally evaluate the criteria “layout,” “content,” “interactivity,” “technology” and “navigation/handling” [3],[11]. User-friendliness has been assessed based on the criteria of “structure,” “target group” and “goal-oriented search” [4]. However, the results of such studies paint a rather disillusioning picture on the whole. In 2001 it was found that 17 institutions of higher education in Berlin had not made sufficient use of Web possibilities [3]. The 56th Internet Industry Report performed an automatic analysis of the websites of all 285 universities and schools of higher education according to 135 criteria covering content, interactivity, handling and layout. Good results were found for the domain “content”, while substandard results were found for the domain “interactivity“ [11]. Nevertheless, these global assessments do not deliver any specific information about the Internet presence of university medical schools.

The present survey compares the Web presence of 36 medical schools in Germany in terms of design, content and scope. The findings present an overview of the target groups and the content of the websites, hence, giving the medical schools an opportunity to optimize their Internet presence.


Methods

The criteria were defined in a multilevel procedure. In the first step, possible and relevant criteria were determined on the basis of the literature [1], [3], [4], [11]. These criteria were prioritized by relevance for the defined user groups of the medical schools’ websites. Aspects of layout and interactivity, for example, were excluded because they are impossible or hard to measure. Then four real websites were searched for content that had yet been overlooked. Any additional criteria found in this manner were assessed by the study group. As a result of this procedure, 128 criteria were defined and 24 main categories were organized into five groups: “formal criteria,” “general,” “university applicants,” “students” and “teachers” (see Table 1 [Tab. 1]). Information on the measurement of the 128 criteria is found in the electronic appendix [Attach. 1]. The assessment took place using a descriptive point-based system: “criterion met” earned two points, “criterion not met” earned no point. Points were awarded for aspects of page navigation in a deviating manner: no points were awarded if a page was inaccessible or needed >3 clicks to be reached, one point was given if the page could be accessed in 2–3 clicks, and two points were scored for pages that could be accessed with one click from the homepage. A maximum score of 256 points could be reached in this point-based system. The websites of 35 public and one private German medical school were reviewed.

The first criteria-based assessment of all faculties took place in May 2008; a follow-up was conducted in June of the same year. If variations in the results emerged, the domains were reappraised and reassessed. Data acquisition was performed by DT.


Results

Comparison of the results of the criteria-based website assessment

None of the 36 medical schools achieved more than 200 of the maximum 256 points. An average of 137 points was reached, and the range of the results was quite large, between 63 and 196 points. Twenty medical schools were in the middle range with 100-150 points, twelve obtained over 150 points and four did not reach the 100 point mark. The score of the individual faculties will not be specified here, as various websites have been adapted in the meantime.

Formal criteria

There were no problems with regard to the display of the universities’ websites in different Web browsers, nor was there any difficulty in printing out the Web pages (see table 2 [Tab. 2]). All schools facilitated navigation by links to higher-level pages; the majority featured a search function, which, however, often did not deliver results to study-relevant terms and definitions (clinical elective, post-doc thesis, State Examination Board, doctorate, tuition).

General

Thirty-four medical schools had a “news” feature, while some had separate “news” features for students (25) and for teachers (4). Almost all websites provided advisory services, 25 offered an e-learning platform and 29 had a password-protected intranet. Student evaluation of teaching was often mentioned (26x) but rarely were results made available (4x). Many universities offered dedicated pages for students in medicine I (preclinical part of medical study), medicine II (clinical part) and those in the practical year rotation, and approximately half the universities provided dedicated pages for alumni and teachers as well. In many cases, however, many clicks were needed to access this information.

University applicants

Twenty-nine schools named a contact person for university applicants, 17 offered information about tuition fees.

Students

Of the 35 medical schools that offered a standard medical curriculum, 24 provided information on the curriculum design for the first and second part of the curriculum. Sample schedules and information on the clinical elective were available more often. Approximately half of the schools offered assistance with study subjects, examination dates, first-aid courses and practical nursing courses. The situation was similar for the seven model educational programs in accordance with §31 of the licensing regulations for physicians (ÄAppO 2002) [2]. Almost all schools referred to the teaching hospitals with whom they collaborated for the practical year rotations, including rotation dates; however, only eight mentioned the courses taking place there. Thirty-four schools posted the doctoral degree regulations on their website, 30 the necessary form for application; a pool of doctoral thesis proposals was found on only 15 websites. Details about the contact person were provided regularly.

Teachers

While most of the medical schools gave information on the post-doctoral thesis and about half of them provided the name of a contact person for teaching staff, only approximately one-third refered to information for further training or the teaching philosophy. Web pages regarding scientific research in medical education were rare.


Discussion

"The website of a university is like a new building: it should have a logical and clear structure, a spacious layout and be self-explanatory" (Bernd Röttger, page 45 in [7]). Even though most universities are proceeding in the right direction, there is still a lot to be done, e.g. improving user-friendliness, implementing consistent quality assurance and providing a better offer for interested persons form abroad [7]. The findings of the present survey show that this is also the case for German medical school websites, despite the satisfactory results in some areas.

The evaluation of the websites of the medical schools on the basis of 128 criteria shows a great variation. For half of the schools there is considerable room for improvement, while for about 10% there is huge room for improvement. While the display and navigation of the websites are generally error-free, the search function of some schools could be improved.

The differentiation of target groups is a central criterion for the success of a website [5] and has also been included by the German Rectors Conference in their catalogue of criteria [7]. Students and university applicants are already addressed on university websites [4] and also on those of the medical schools, but this is seldom the case for teachers and alumni.

The criterion “news” was selected to evaluate the up-to-dateness of the websites. Although 94% of the schools possessed a “news” feature, only half of them updated it within a timeframe of six weeks. One more criterion of success is personalization of a website [5]. An Internet presence is deemed successful if the user returns, which can be assured by offering students different possibilities of contact and interaction [3]. For example, this might take the form of providing the details and consultation hours of relevant contact persons [4]. Since 81% of the schools name a contact person for applicants and 97% name a contact person for students, student and applicant needs are well met. In contrast, less than half of the websites specify a contact person for teachers.

The present results are subject to the following methodological limitations. The dichotomous response pattern of “criterion met” or “criterion not met” allows on the one hand a high level of objectivity and standardization and an optimal recording of structure- and content-related criteria. On the other hand, all criteria were evaluated in the same way, so that certain strengths of the schools may be inadequately represented in the overall results. The study was designed as a cross-sectional survey at a defined moment in time; subsequent changes or adaptations were not taken into account. Only webpages without access authorization could be analyzed, hence, information in password-protected areas was excluded. In view of the rapid growth in the areas of education and teaching in recent years, follow-up studies should consider the inclusion or further differentiation of criteria such as teaching concepts, learning targets, communication training and skills labs. Due to the rapid technological advances that have taken place since the time of data acquisition, it would be necessary to add “support for mobile electronic equipment use” to the criteria catalog.

This survey gives medical schools the opportunity to reflect on their own Internet presence on the basis of the criteria presented here. Furthermore, the tables allow an investigation which areas of the German medical schools’ websites require improvement.


Contribution

OK and WH designed the study. DT acquired and processed the data. All authors were involved in the analysis of the data and in the writing of the manuscript.


Acknowledgements

We thank the Medical Faculty of University of Hamburg for supporting this project (L-09/28) from the fund for advancing education.


Ethics committee

No approval from the ethics committee was necessary, as no person-related data were used.


Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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