For many years, scientists were assured that the only way to have a study taken seriously was to have it published in a peer-reviewed journal that had to meet certain minimum criteria. Those who had drug and supplement tests published in anything less than these weren’t considered credible. In some cases, people were actually unable to bring medical devices on the open market because of a lack of appropriate citations.
Drugs sold in the United States continue to need FDA approval, which has ensured that this traditional publication process has remained in place. Nevertheless, a combination of expert and crowd-sourced reviews is quickly becoming the new norm. Perhaps the biggest benefit of this is the fact that people can bring potentially life-saving treatments on the market faster.
After all, you can always find someone online willing to review the outcome of a patient study. A number of other benefits are quickly catching the attention of those in the industry as well.
Pros of Crowdsourcing Health & Fitness Studies
Smaller supplement companies and fitness firms couldn’t possibly afford to conduct traditional studies, which means they’ve traditionally been relegated to the status of second class citizens who have to manufacture products on behalf of much larger firms. By crowdsourcing these studies, people are able to test whether something is safe and effective without using up their entire research budget.
For instance, RightHealth was able to look into the effectiveness of concentrated beet powder by leveraging online resources and searching through previous studies. Without an online presence, smaller organizations wouldn’t be able to do this kind of research at all.
Crowdsourced studies tend to be more honest as well. Since individuals involved in these studies usually aren’t connected to the product in question, they don’t have any vested interest in it being approved. That means they’re not going to switch samples or tamper with the results. Respondents are going to always speak the truth when they have no real incentive to do otherwise.
It can be difficult to find individuals to interpret the results of certain types of niche studies. For instance, organizations that are attempting to find new uses for unusual herbs and minerals might not be able to find a sufficient number of people who are experienced with these substances. Those who reach out online can often find a greater variety of individuals with the credentials needed to oversee studies on almost any topic.
That being said, there are also drawbacks to requesting online support.
The Cons of Crowdsourcing
While crowdsourcing gives health and fitness researchers access to a large pool of potential respondents, it also injects certain biases into studies. One systematic review found that crowdsourced studies greatly over-represent those from developed nations. This is particularly problematic for those working on treatments for conditions not normally found in those parts of the world.
At the same time, there’s always the risk that some people who participate in a study won’t be nearly as qualified as they claim. Artificial intelligence has helped to assuage this problem to some degree, but the fact remains that virtual reviews can be difficult to police.
Quality control issues have long plagued online research groups for other reasons as well. Some people have a tendency to post multiple replies from different IP addresses under various names. While it’s usually easy to spot this kind of behavior, it’s not always immediately obvious when it happens.
Fortunately, new technological developments have ensured that the pros greatly outweigh any cons.
Normalizing Crowdsourced Biomedical Reviews
Considering that online pharmacy apps are quickly becoming normal, it doesn’t seem like opponents of crowdsourced studies are going to be able to hold them back for much longer. A blend of expert and crowdsourced reviews have quickly become the new normal in the fields of drug testing and supplement research.
With healthcare costs continuing to spiral out of control, researchers are increasingly looking to crowdsourcing as a way to deal with medical device testing. Traditional medical experts have remained somewhat skeptical, but good preliminary results are helping to ensure that people continue to adopt the new paradigm. That means you might soon see even the largest research organizations incorporating at least some form of crowdsourcing into the peer-review process.