Promotion and marketing of bioidentical hormone therapy on the internet: a content analysis of websites

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Abstract

Objective:

To evaluate the quality of information presented and claims made on websites offering bioidentical hormone therapy (BHT) products or services.

Methods:

A quantitative content analysis was completed on 100 websites promoting or offering BHT products or services. Websites were identified through Google search engine from September to October 2013. Search terms included “bioidentical hormone therapy” or “bioidentical progesterone,” accompanied by “purchase or buy,” “service,” or “doctors.” The Brief DISCERN instrument was used to determine the quality of the health information.

Results:

Websites were from Canada (59%), United States (38%), and other countries (3%). Almost half of the websites originated from medical clinics (47%), and healthcare professionals offering BHT services included physicians (50%), pharmacists (19%), and naturopaths (16%). Majority of websites promoted BHT as custom-compounded formulations (62%), with only 27% indicating that BHT is also commercially available. Websites overall claimed that BHT had less risk compared with conventional hormone therapy (62%). BHT was described as having less breast cancer risk (40%), whereas over a quarter of websites described BHT as “protective” for breast cancer. Websites mainly targeted women (99%), with males mentioned in 62% of websites. Product descriptors used to promote BHT included individualization (77%), natural (70%), hormone imbalance (56%), and antiaging (50%). The mean Brief DISCERN score was 15, indicating lower quality of information.

Conclusions:

Claims made about BHT on the internet are misleading and not consistent with current professional organizations’ recommendations. Understanding how BHT may be promoted on the internet can help healthcare professionals when educating patients.

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