Internet health forum advice 'safer than generally assumed'

Scientific Developments/Breakthroughs

A new UK study has indicated that the quality of health advice provided by internet forums may be better than many currently believe.

The research from Royal Holloway, University of London, examined three popular online discussion forum websites - Reddit, Mumsnet and Patient - and asked doctors and members of the public to rate answers given to questions relating to diabetes, HIV and chickenpox.

“A new UK study has indicated that advice given on internet health forums may not be as dangerous as often assumed.“

Ratings were shown to be mostly favourable, and even where information was considered to be inaccurate, this did not automatically mean that the assessors felt the advice given was bad.

It was noted that forums such as Reddit generally implement responsible posting policies, verifying the qualifications of posters claiming to be medical professionals and separating medical discussion forums from alternate therapy discussions.

Additionally, incorrect or potentially harmful information was largely challenged or removed swiftly, while posters were encouraged to seek professional healthcare.

Study leader Jennifer Cole, a doctoral student at Royal Holloway, said: "With NHS resources under pressure, the number of GP appointments and accident and emergency walk-in admissions increasing, such forums may offer a viable alternative for future healthcare."

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