Study: Online Posts Can Help Physicians Learn About Drug Side Effects

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Many women who are taking certain breast cancer medications post online about the drugs' side effects, according to a study published in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, WHYY's "NewsWorks" reports (Beeler, "NewsWorks," WHYY, 1/23).

Study Details

For the study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine analyzed 25,256 online message board posts related to aromatase inhibitors, which are drugs used to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer. The researchers looked at posts on websites like WebMD and Oprah.com (Perelman School of Medicine release, 1/15).

To analyze the message board content, the researchers developed a Web crawler that combed more than one million posts over an eight-year period.

Study Findings

Of the women who posted on message boards about aromatase inhibitors, nearly 20% talked about the drugs' side effects, the study found. Most of the comments about side effects related to severe joint pain.

Researchers also found that about 40% of the women who posted about aromatase inhibitors discussed discontinuing the medication or switching to another drug.

Comments on Findings

Jun Mao, lead author of the study, said that online forums and message boards can provide physicians with much quicker access to information about patients' experiences with side effects than focus groups or other traditional evaluation methods.

Mao said that such online posts could "help inform developing interventions to improve clinical care" ("NewsWorks," WHYY, 1/23).

Than Nguyen
Listening is among the most valuable ways to use social media for business success. It's the difference between information and insight and also listening to and hearing patients in a way that inspires innovation or intervention.

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