Publication Date



International Journal of Medical Informatics


BACKGROUND: Many consumers join online communities focused on health. Online forums are a popular medium for the exchange of health information between consumers, so it is important to determine the accuracy and completeness of information posted to online forums.

OBJECTIVE: We compared the accuracy and completeness of information regarding the FDA-approved over-the counter weight-loss drug Alli (Orlistat) from forums and from clinicians.

METHODS: We identified Alli-related questions posted on online forums and then posed the questions to 11 primary care providers. We then compared the clinicians' answers to the answers given on the forums. A panel of blinded experts evaluated the accuracy and completeness of the answers on a scale of 0-4. Another panel of blinded experts categorized questions as being best answered based on clinical experience versus review of the literature.

RESULTS: The accuracy and completeness of clinician responses was slightly better than forum responses, but there was no significant difference (2.3 vs. 2.1, p=0.5). Only one forum answer contained information that could potentially cause harm if the advice was followed.

CONCLUSIONS: Forum answers were comparable to clinicians' answers with respect to accuracy and completeness, but answers from both sources were unsatisfactory.


Consumer Health Information, Drug Information Services, Evidence-Based Medicine, Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice, Humans, Lactones, Obesity, Online Systems, Orlistat



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