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 were blamed on the medications or vaccines.
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.