Concerns over online health forums and information–seeking behaviour point to the potential harm incorrect, incomplete, or biased information may cause.
The aim of a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research was to improve our understanding of the quality and quality characteristics of information found in online discussion forum websites so that their likely value as a peer-to-peer health information–sharing platform could be assessed.
A total of 25 health discussion threads were selected across 3 websites (Reddit, Mumsnet, and Patient) covering 3 health conditions (human immunodeficiency virus [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.
Analysis of the ratings suggests 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.
Quality assessments differed depending on the health condition (chickenpox appeared 17 times in the 20 lowest-rated threads, HIV twice, and diabetes once).
Although assessors tended to agree on which discussion threads contained good quality information, what constituted poor quality information appeared to be more subjective.
The full study can be read here.