Avoiding Fraudulent Health Websites Through Reviews

April 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm 2 comments

Given the difficulty healthcare consumers have in locating useful and reliable health information, I took note of SiteJabber.com both because of their model of website reviews and because they are supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. I interviewed Jeremy Gin, their CEO and co-founder, who calls SiteJabber a consumer protection service that helps people avoid fraudulent websites, find good sites, and contribute reviews. The site has information on over 100,000 websites, including 6403 health sites, and is visited by over 400,000 consumers every month. They were named one of the top 100 websites of 2010 by PC Magazine.

Lisa: Health website quality is arguably more important than any other type of site. How does SiteJabber address quality issues?

Jeremy: We certainly share your concern about the quality of information available to consumers on the quality of healthcare sites. Our role is publishing community reviews on the quality of healthcare sites, and our own data gathering and surfacing of useful information that might not be easily available to consumers. In terms of the quality of information on SiteJabber, we go through great efforts to limit the impact of spam on our site through technology, administrative review curation, and community review curation. 

Lisa: Do you ever ask people to review sites or have people on staff doing reviews? Many health sites seemed to be reviewed by one person, Rod G.

Jeremy: Most of our reviews come from Online Consumer Advocates. These Advocates are typically possess a wide-range of expertise—think modern-day Renaissance men and women—and care deeply about helping other consumers and making the internet a better place for everyone. We are very thankful and lucky to have a number of these individuals who have dedicated a large amount of their time to supporting our cause. While we do not pay reviewers, Rod G. is one of our co-founders and an MD, so has written a number of reviews of health sites. In the coming months, we will be inviting more healthcare experts (MDs as well as others) to review sites. Right now we have a “reviewer level” system which lets readers know the relative trustworthiness of reviewers. We’re also about to introduce a more robust system which will incorporate authority specific to healthcare. 

Lisa: Why do you show the HONcode logo for some sites? I ask this because so many healthcare consumers don’t know what it is. Do you think it adds credibility?

Jeremy: In the health field, we believe HON Seals provide useful information. For those who haven’t heard of it, it is a non-profit based in Switzerland which vets healthcare sites for information quality, conflicts of interest, etc. However, I would point out that HON Seal information is offered only as a data point to consumers, not the ultimate judge of a website’s quality. For example, sites such as Psychcentral and Dailystrength are HON certified but our reviewers have brought up legitimate issues with these sites that we believe consumers should be aware of as well.

Lisa: Do you like controversy in reviews, such as those on Quackwatch, which is one of the few health sites I found with multiple reviews?

Jeremy: Controversy is not something we seek out—our chief concern is providing transparency and useful information for consumers—but sometimes controversy finds us, in which case we do our best to keep the discussions focused on giving people something useful to read.

Lisa: How does social media fit into your model? I see you use Twitter and Facebook, and have a blog as well.

Jeremy: Social media has been important to us in the past and will be increasingly important going forward. We use our blog to communicate broadly with our community and the general public; so if we notice an emerging scam we can let everyone know, or if we come up with some tips for consumers in a particular subject (like health), we can post those as well. We also publish illustrative graphics on topics we believe are important to consumers, such as the counterfeit pharmaceuticals trade. Blog posts are broadcast through our Facebook Fan Page and Twitter account and often syndicated by The Atlantic, Fast Company, and AOL’s Consumer Ally so they can reach more than our usual base of visitors. In addition, our reviewers can use their own Facebook and Twitter accounts to broadcast their own reviews. We’re presently working on a deeper integration of social media so our reviewers can make their SiteJabber experience an extension of their Facebook experience, if they so choose.

Entry filed under: health. Tags: , , , .

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Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

Lisa GualtieriLisa Gualtieri is Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. She is Director of the Certificate Program in Digital Health Communication. Lisa teaches Designing Health Campaigns using Social Media, Social Media and Health, Mobile Health Design, and Digital Strategies for Health Communication. Contact Lisa: lisa.gualtieri@tufts.edu

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