INTRODUCTION: Potential acupuncture patients seek out information about acupuncture from various sources including websites, many of which are unreliable. We aimed to create an informative, scientifically accurate and engaging website to educate patients about acupuncture for back pain and modify their beliefs in a way that might enhance its clinical effects.
METHODS: We used psychological theory and techniques to design an evidence-based website, incorporating multimedia elements. We conducted qualitative "think aloud" audio-recorded interviews to elicit user views of the website. A convenience sample of ten participants (4 male; aged 21-64 years from the local community) looked at the website in the presence of a researcher and spoke their thoughts out loud. Comments were categorised by topic.
RESULTS: The website comprises 11 main pages and addresses key topics of interest to potential acupuncture patients, including beneficial and adverse effects, mechanisms of action, safety, practicalities, and patients' experiences of acupuncture. It provides information through text, evidence summaries and audio-clips of four patients' stories and two acupuncturists' descriptions of their practice, and three short films. Evidence from the think aloud study was used to identify opportunities to make the website more informative, engaging, and user-friendly.
CONCLUSIONS: Using a combination of psychological theory and qualitative interviews enabled us to produce a user-friendly, evidence-based website that is likely to change patients' beliefs about acupuncture for back pain. Before using the website in clinical settings it is necessary to test its effects on key outcomes including patients' beliefs and capacity for making informed choices about acupuncture.