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Using Twitter to Track Drug Side Effects

blablameertUsing Twitter to Track Drug Side Effects

Using Twitter to track anything? Er, maybe?

According to the Boston Globe, Boston Children’s Hospital researchers have found out that online postings could be a new way to identify problems with drugs sooner.

Using Twitter to Track Drug Side Effects

In an FDA-funded study published in the journal Drug Safety, researchers from Children’s, the FDA, and elsewhere searched through Twitter posts mentioning 23 commonly used medications. The list included antidepressants, sleeping pills, and popular over the counter remedies such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and even vaccines.

The study was conducted for over a six month period between 2012 and 2013. Of the 60,000 tweets mentioning these drugs or vaccines, 4,401 of the postings described side effects that the tweeter blamed on the medications or vaccines.

Hey, This Might Even Work. A Little.

This methodology certainly appears to be promising. Twitter is, by definition, a quick hit. No one is going to go into detail about their complaints. Further, since people are already at least somewhat cognizant of online issues with their own medical privacy, they might not want to go into too much detail. However, most people would, I believe, feel comfortable enough to tweet something like the following –

  • Aspirin is making me nauseous
  • I think Prednisone is giving me a rash
  • I don’t like taking Lipitor

For any researchers searching for information about side effects, Twitter and other social media platforms might prove to be useful. However, a caveat is most definitely in order – some people go to social media platforms pretty much for the sole purpose of complaining.

Context, as it often is, is important.

Are You Using Twitter to Track Anything Today?

If anything, the microblogging site has gotten weirder. It’s far more fragmented and disjointed than it was when I wrote the first iteration of this post. But that was a good eight-plus years ago.

Of course, things are different. That should be a given. But the Twitter takeover by Elon Musk has upped the chaos factor.

And let’s not even talk about the disturbing swirl of Covid and vaccine misinformation.

For anyone using Twitter to track anything, it has got to be a Herculean task to separate a few crumbs of wheat from a tractor-trailer’s worth of chaff.

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