A study published in the April issue of the American Journal of Infection Control found that Twitter and other social networking tools could spread misinformation about health and medicine, Healthcare IT News reports.
For the study, researchers from Columbia University and MixedInk analyzed 52,153 Twitter status updates, or "tweets," mentioning antibiotics between March 13, 2009 and July 21, 2009. They categorized each tweet into one of 11 groups and then randomly selected 1,000 tweets from the complete list. The researchers then looked at the cases of misunderstanding or abuse by conducting searches combining "antibiotic(s)" with several other words.
According to the researchers, the top three most common categories for the tweets were:
- General use;
- Advice and information; and
- Side effects/negative reactions.
The researchers found that only about 700 of the more than 52,000 tweets fell into the "misunderstanding and/or misuse" category. However, they said that such misinformation could be spread easily and quickly through Twitter.
The most common word combination for the "misunderstanding and/or misuse" category was "flu and antibiotics," with 345 tweets reaching 172,571 followers. The second most popular word combination for the category was "cold and antibiotics," with 302 tweets reaching 850,375 followers.
The researchers say that health care professionals should have basic familiarity with social networking tools, such as Twitter, because health information is shared so extensively through such networks.
They also said that social networking services could potentially be used to:
- Collect real-time health data;
- Identify possible misuses or misunderstandings of antibiotics; and
- Disseminate accurate health information (Merrill, Healthcare IT News, 3/31).