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Communicating Medical Information Online: The Case of Adolescent Health Websites


In recent times, our understanding and practice of public health has been increasingly guided by technological advances generally based on governmental decisions (Green et al. 2009). Not only does the growth of a public system for protecting health hinge upon scientific discovery and dissemination of medical knowledge, but also the World Wide Web has considerably changed the health communication environment. This paper considers the online health information addressed to adolescents. Given that young people have difficulty accessing traditional health services, in theory, the Internet might offer them a more confidential and convenient access to an unprecedented level of information about a diverse range of subjects (Hansen et al. 2003). In this context, the analysis concentrates on ‘adolescent health,’ and compares and contrasts the discourse of three websites: Healthdirect, a free service supported by the Government of Australia, SAHM managed by a multidisciplinary society based in the USA, Canada and the UK, and TeenMentalHealth.Org managed by the WHO (World Health Organization) Collaborating Centre in Mental Health Policy and Training. The study is designed to highlight both the specificities of communication of ‘adolescent health’ (Harvey 2014; Gotti, Maci and Sala 2015; Garzone and Ilie 2014), and the linguistic/discoursal and visual strategies adopted over the dedicated online platforms. Given the communicative immediacy of the new medium and the specificities of the target audience, it becomes crucial to see how the selected websites both linguistically and visually communicate medical information to adolescent web-users (LeVine and Scollon 2004; Kolucki and Lemish 2011).