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Why patients should take online health reviews with a pinch of salt

We are all guilty of using the internet to search for reviews on all types of products. The online health sector is no different; however, a new report has highlighted that we should take these reviews with a certain amount of scepticism, as they are typically skewed in favour of the positives.


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The research report was compiled by Dr Micheál de Barra, a psychologist from the University of Aberdeen, and has been published in Social Science and Medicine.

The rise of online reviews

In the modern age, online reviews are increasingly becoming part of our purchasing decisions. A survey conducted by BrightLocal found that 88 per cent of consumers believed these product reviews as much as they would a personal recommendation.

The research from Dr de Barra looked at the online reviews for three different health products and compared these to the actual clinical trial results. He wanted to assess whether those who experienced a positive outcome are more inclined to write a review than those who had a poor or average one. If this is the case, these reviews could give a distorted opinion of the benefits.

Dr de Barra analysed a weight loss product and two cholesterol-reducing medicines that are available on Amazon.com: 908 reviews were analysed for the two cholesterol-reducing products and 767 for the weight loss medication. He discovered that the degree of weight loss and cholesterol reduction reported online was far greater than the effectiveness seen in clinical trials.

The problems with product reviews

This can cause issues for consumers if they are relying on the results of an online review, as a clinical trial is a much more reliable marker. These are carried out by pharmaceutical and other related companies, using high-quality clinical staffing solutions from providers such as http://www.gandlscientific.com/clinical-staffing-solutions/.

Online reviews – whether they are for health products, hotels, restaurants, books or films – have a large degree of bias, as they are only written by those who have the inclination to comment. It is more likely that they will be compiled by those with either strong negative or positive experiences rather than those who would give an average rating.

Those searching for impartial opinions on medical products should look at more robust sources, such as the TRIP Database, the Cochrane Library or NHS Evidence.