If You Get Medical Advice from Social Networks

March 29, 2010 in Medicine by RangelMD

A study in the American Journal of Infection Control looked at 1,000 randomly selected messages from the social network Twitter that mentioned “antibiotics” to see how much incorrect information about the use of these medications was spread around.

Cases of misunderstanding or abuse were identified for the following combinations: “flu + antibiotic(s)” (n = 345), “cold + antibiotic(s)” (n = 302), “leftover + antibiotic(s)” (n = 23), “share + antibiotic(s)” (n = 10), and “extra + antibiotic(s)” (n = 7).

Though only about 2% of the 1,000 messages studied contained misinformation about the use of antibiotics (particularly in the setting of the treatment of viral infections) the potential for this misinformation to spread . . like a virus, is very high.

One tweet about antibiotics for a cold — which is not their intended use — reached around 850,000 people. In other cases, the study found people often tweeted about not finishing their antibiotics or offering to share them with others, a big no-no when it comes to medications.

This is an interesting study in the way people get misinformation and trust sources. And it’s very ironic since the correct information about the use of antibiotics in the setting of a cold is only a quick search away on the same device people use to get their Twitter messages. So it’s not laziness or barriers to information that is compounding the problem. Basically, if you get your medical information or advice from a social network (virtual or real) then you really are a twit.

Please share.