Websites selling home diagnostic tests are providing misleading and confusing information which could have serious health consequences, according to a new study.
Researchers from Birmingham Women’s Hospital looked at the information provided on 168 websites marketing home diagnostic tests for conditions such as hepatitis C, HIV and prostate cancer.
They found that 55.9% of the websites complied with less than half of the criteria suggested by the authors and only one website complied with all of their criteria.
Information on the accuracy of the tests was found on 51.7%, with only 8.9% providing a scientific reference. They concluded that many websites provide poor quality information to the general public, leading to the potential for misdiagnosis.
The researchers said: “Home diagnostic medical tests are part of a rapidly growing market of health-related products available for purchase on the internet. Despite their increasing popularity, there are concerns that inadequate, misleading or confusing advertisement can potentially result in inappropriate use of these tests and lead to false reassurance or unnecessary anxiety, which may have serious health consequences.”
The study, published in the January edition of the Journal of the Royal Society of
Medicine and available online shortly, found that the majority of websites marketing home diagnostic tests provided information of inadequate quality, and often failed to demonstrate any evidence of official approval or certification.
Instructions for use were only found in 57.9% of all websites. As little as a quarter of the tests included what action should be taken after obtaining the test result.
Dr Adrija Kumar Datta, a specialist registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology and one of the study authors, said: “In my personal experience, I have seen ‘sperm test kits’ for home use give incorrect results. A test result of ‘poor sperm count’ was proven wrong by retesting the same individual’s semen twice in the hospital laboratory. That caused initial frustration and subsequent confusion to the person concerned.”
Dr Datta said it was difficult to control internet marketing by national legislation since such business was not restricted to any political boundary and said the study found that available guidance was not being implemented across the world.
He added: “The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the United Kingdom and the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, have started regulating the sale of ‘over-the-counter’ diagnostic kits within their own countries.
On-line marketing of these kits, including the publishing of product information on the net, however, remain beyond legal control.”
The researchers called for ongoing audit and quality assurance of any guidelines.
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