A study by Royal Holloway University, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, has explored the quality of information found in online discussion forum websites. It aims to assess the likely value of such information as a peer-to-peer health information–sharing platform.
A total of 25 health discussion threads were selected across 3 websites (Reddit, Mumsnet, and Patient) covering 3 health conditions (HIV, diabetes, and chickenpox).
Assessors were asked to rate information found in the discussion threads according to 5 criteria: accuracy, completeness, how sensible the replies were, how they thought the questioner would act, and how useful they thought the questioner would find the replies.
The findings suggested that health threads on Internet discussion forum websites are more likely than not (by a factor of 4:1) to contain information of high or reasonably high quality. Extremely poor information is rare; the lowest available assessment rating was awarded only 11 times out of a possible 353, whereas the highest was awarded 54 times.
Although assessors tended to agree on which discussion threads contained good quality information, what constituted poor quality information appeared to be more subjective.
Most of the information assessed in the study was considered by qualified medical doctors and non-medically qualified respondents to be of reasonably good quality.
Although a small amount of information was assessed as poor, not all respondents agreed that the original questioner would have been led to act inappropriately based on the information presented.
The authors conclude that the study suggests that discussion forum websites may be a useful platform through which people can ask health-related questions and receive answers of acceptable quality.
The full study can be read here.
Cole J, Watkins C, Kleine D
Health Advice from Internet Discussion Forums: How Bad Is Dangerous?
J Med Internet Res 2016;18(1):e4