Navigating Health Sources on the Internet: A Mixed-Methods Examination of Online Consumer Reviews and Expert Text on Psychotropic Drugsedit
The Internet has provided an unprecedented opportunity for psychotropic medication consumers, a traditionally silenced group in clinical trial research, to have voice by contributing to the construction of drug knowledge in an immediate, direct manner. Currently, there are no systematic appraisals of the potential of online consumer drug reviews to contribute to drug knowledge. The purpose of this research was to explore the content of drug information on various websites representing themselves as consumer- and expert-constructed, and as a practical consideration, to examine how each source may help and hinder treatment decision-making. A mixed-methods research strategy utilizing a grounded theory approach was used to analyze drug information on 5 exemplar websites (3 consumer- and 2 expert-constructed) for 2 popularly prescribed psychotropic drugs (escitalopram and quetiapine). A stratified simple random sample was used to select 1,080 consumer reviews from the websites (N=7,114) through February 2009. Text was coded using QDA Miner 3.2 software by Provalis Research. A combination of frequency tables, descriptive excerpts from text, and chi-square tests for association were used throughout analyses. Findings: The most frequently mentioned effects by consumers taking either drug were related to psychological/behavioral symptoms and sleep. Consumers reported many of the same effects as found on expert health sites, but provided more descriptive language and situational examples. Expert labels of less serious on certain effects were not congruent with the sometimes tremendous burden described by consumers. Consumers mentioned more than double the themes mentioned in expert text, and demonstrated a diversity and range of discourses around those themes. Drug effects from each source were complete relative to the information provided in the other, but each also offered distinct advantages. Expert health sites provided concise summaries of medications’ effects, while consumer reviews had the added advantage of concrete descriptions and greater context. In short, consumer reviews better prepared potential consumers for what it’s like to take psychotropic drugs. Both sources of information benefit clinicians and consumers in making informed treatment-related decisions. Social work practitioners are encouraged to thoughtfully utilize online consumer drug reviews as a legitimate additional source for assisting clients in learning about treatment options.