Why is HealthCrowds important?
The health system is currently dominated by the medical model: symptoms are caused by diseases and disorders that often require treatment by strong interventions such as drugs and surgery. However, there has been increasing recognition that other factors such as diet, supplements, and lifestyle factors can also impact quality of life, especially when they differ from those we evolved in as, shown by the popularity of the recent ancestral health movement. However, because these relationships are not well-established or understood, a medical doctor is unlikely to be aware of them. A medical doctor will then be unlikely to recommend the best course of action in some situations, leading to the problem not being resolved and, in some cases, recommending an inappropriate treatment that causes more harm than good.
For example, the shift from eating whole foods to eating refined foods has given rise to the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Typical medical intervention often involves the prescription of medications to alleviate symptoms. All medications, however, come with unwanted side effects, many that can lower quality of life or even increase mortality by other causes. Turning to a whole-foods diet and getting rid of processed junk foods, however, is often more effective than medications, and instead of negative side effects typically produce a range of other positive health effects.
The goal of this website is to use crowd-sourced information to identify these relationships, allowing people to better understand their health and how it may be improved. Not only can we see present relationships, we can also monitor changes in the ratings over time and more quickly identify new treatments that show promise.
Why not just use Google?
The problem with Google is that it often does not work for these types of questions. Google is based on matching simple search terms to the best hit, not a comprehensive summary of all possible information on a topic. In contrast, this website gives a listing of all the treatments that people have used to address a symptom or diagnosis. By listing all possible treatments, it is possible to find a cause that is so rare that a google search would not reveal it in the first 100 pages, but which may stand out once it is discovered. For instance, taking glucoscomine tablets at night can lead to sore, stiff joints in the morning. However, a google search does not reveal this. A google search will only mention the most widely believed causes of sore, stiff joints like high-blood pressure.
In addition, the listing is ranked using a custom algorithm based on both the popularity of the treatment and how effective people have found it. So while other pages may list a number of possible treatments for an ailment, this website will give statistics showing their relative effectiveness based on other people’s experience.
Finally, this website allows you to register and input your own health characteristics such as weight, height, and blood pressure. These variables are then used to better match the results by weighting more heavily the experiences of people who are more similar to you in health characteristics. Putting it more simply, a major cause of high blood pressure is being overweight, but this is not relevant if you are underweight and suffering from high blood pressure. This website allows you to find treatments that apply if you are underweight and suffering from high blood pressure.
Can’t the results be influenced by manufacturers of health products?
This was a concern when websites first allowed users to review products. What stops the manufacturer from just submitting a lot of good reviews themselves, driving the rating up? Despite this, online reviews are now widely trusted and a valuable source of information. There are a number of reasons for this. First, most manufacturers realize that this is dishonest and do not engage in this practice ― especially since, if they are found to be doing this, it could cause irreparable harm to their reputation. Second, requiring a user to create an account using a verified email address before submitting data makes the submission of data to skew the results an onerous task ― and we also have methods of detecting fake data and rejecting it. Third, good reviews will lead to many unbiased people testing the product. If the product does not live up to expectations, negative reviews will accumulate and the overall assessment will gravitate towards a more accurate reflection of a products worthiness ― more so that greater the number of people that are submitting information.
Doesn’t the placebo effect argue against using personal experience as data for treatment effectiveness?
No, the placebo effect actually shows the need for the information that this site gives. Because of the placebo effect, any web page that describes the efficacy of a treatment based on a person’s personal experience is suspect. However, the placebo effect would be expected to affect all treatments equally. This means that, if only the placebo effect is at work, then all treatments should get similar ratings. However, because our site allows a comparison across different treatments, then differences due to differences in the effectiveness of the treatments will be revealed.
Are you rejecting the role of scientific research into health?
Not at all. The founders of this website are trained in the scientific method (both have PhDs in science and have published in very prestigious scientific journals), and recognize that double-blind experiments are the gold standard for establishing the effectiveness of treatments. However, people who are intimately familiar with the scientific process also recognize its weaknesses. Scientific research is often guided by herd-instincts whereby researchers are taught to think about problems a certain way, and rewarded for doing this. This means that the scientific process is not completely bias-free. In addition, due to the expense and difficulty of doing double-blind experiments, they tend to be concerned with main effects or finding an effect that applies across the population. They do less well at identifying relationships that may differ from individual to individual. These issues are what this website is trying to address, and it is hoped that the data will eventually lead to better scientific evidence including the use of double-blind studies as well.
How are the rankings determined?
We have developed an algorithm that takes into account various factors including the popularity of a treatment, people who find a treatment effective, people who find a treatment ineffective or even harmful, and how these factors have changed over time. These factors are then converted into a simple percentage that is easy to interpret.
Why do you not provide brand name information?
We are not sure if the benefits of providing brand name information outweigh the costs. One concern is that having brand names visible in the results will encourage manufacturers to try and distort the data by submitting false reports. Another concern is that there may be a bias towards a cheaper brand name, even though a more expensive brand name is actually more effective. For now, we are monitoring the site’s data and trying to determine whether brand name has an effect on effectiveness for treatments in general or only for certain treatments.
Why is ___________ not included as a treatment?
If you want to provide information about a treatment and it is not available in the drop-down, please choose whatever is closest and then provide details about the treatment in the text box. We will look at your description and look at including it as an option in the drop-down.
However, we are also only concerned with treatments that alleviate or cure symptoms, and not with treatments that only accommodate symptoms. Hence, for example, in the case of fatigue, caffeine can alleviate the symptoms, so it is a valid treatment. Using a walking stick does not alleviate the symptoms, so we do not consider it to be a useful treatment and it is not given as an option.