Social media and prescription drugs: A study

QUICK READ: A two-month analysis of social media and prescription drugs found the number one reason online health seekers use social media is to share and ask questions about medication side effects. I also found an abundance of medication misinformation based on personal experiences and hearsay.

In conjunction with leading consumer magazine I worked on a study to determine why people were using social media for information on prescription drugs and to examine and quantify what they were sharing. Here are the results:

1ne: “What was it like?” – Patients were sharing experiences of switching to, or starting, prescription drugs. The posts that led to the highest engagement were around potential side effects. They tended to be based on the personal experiences of patients and caregivers. I was surprised by the number of people who said they would forgo treatments because the medication was “worse than the health problem.”

2wo: “Try this..” – Some people on social media were suggesting different medications and even supplements help patients deal with certain health issues. I was surprised by the number of people recommending older medications because “they work” concerning newly approved drugs.

3hree: Don’t trust pharma – There were some posts accusing pharma of profiteering by introducing new drugs that don’t necessarily work as well as newly approved drugs. There was also some pushback with patients saying, “it helped me to…”.

4our: Look here... – Recommendations to go to other health sites, some credible but many that were not credible.

5ive: Misunderstanding of drug side effects – When someone posted about a side effect and it wasn’t listed on the drug’s website others posted on why and what some of the terminologies actually meant.

There wasn’t that much talk around prices but when someone posted that the medication was expensive, others were willing to share ways to save money. Twitter was used most for bad information, and Patients Like Me was used for influencers who had experience.

Facebook was a total mess. There was a lot of incorrect information, but anyone can start a Facebook group around a health condition and post inaccurate information. The AFIB group, for example, had people recommending procedures that have been medically shown to be of little effect in treating AFIB.

The most common theme in all of our analysis was the need to lead a normal like while treating medical conditions with prescription drugs. Medications with side effects like “premature death and increase risks for certain types of cancer” were particularly called out.