Assessment of web-based consumer reviews as a resource for drug performance

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BACKGROUND: Some health websites provide a public forum for consumers to post ratings and reviews on drugs. Drug reviews are easily accessible and comprehensible, unlike clinical trials and published literature. Because the public increasingly uses the Internet as a source of medical information, it is important to know whether such information is reliable. OBJECTIVE: We aim to examine whether Web-based consumer drug ratings and reviews can be used as a resource to compare drug performance. METHODS: We analyzed 103,411 consumer-generated reviews on 615 drugs used to treat 249 disease conditions from the health website WebMD. Statistical analysis identified 427 drug pairs from 24 conditions for which two drugs treating the same condition had significantly and substantially different satisfaction ratings (with at least a half-point difference between Web-based ratings and P<.01). PubMed and Google Scholar were searched for publications that were assessed for concordance with findings online. RESULTS: Scientific literature was found for 77 out of the 427 drug pairs and compared to findings online. Nearly two-thirds (48/77, 62%) of the online drug trends with at least a half-point difference in online ratings were supported by published literature (P=.02). For a 1-point online rating difference, the concordance rate increased to 68% (15/22) (P=.07). The discrepancies between scientific literature and findings online were further examined to obtain more insights into the usability of Web-based consumer-generated reviews. We discovered that (1) drugs with FDA black box warnings or used off-label were rated poorly in Web-based reviews, (2) drugs with addictive properties were rated higher than their counterparts in Web-based reviews, and (3) second-line or alternative drugs were rated higher. In addition, Web-based ratings indicated drug delivery problems. If FDA black box warning labels are used to resolve disagreements between publications and online trends, the concordance rate increases to 71% (55/77) (P<.001) for a half-point rating difference and 82% (18/22) for a 1-point rating difference (P=.002). Our results suggest that Web-based reviews can be used to inform patients' drug choices, with certain caveats. CONCLUSIONS: Web-based reviews can be viewed as an orthogonal source of information for consumers, physicians, and drug manufacturers to assess the performance of a drug. However, one should be cautious to rely solely on consumer reviews as ratings can be strongly influenced by the consumer experience.




Adusumalli, S., Lee, H. T., Hoi, Q., Koo, S. L., Tan, I. B., & Ng, P. C. (2015). Assessment of web-based consumer reviews as a resource for drug performance. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 17(8).

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