J Med Internet Res: Are Health-Related Tweets Evidence Based?


Background: Health care professionals are utilizing Twitter to communicate, develop disease surveillance systems, and mine health-related information. The immediate users of this health information is the general public, including patients. This necessitates the validation of health-related tweets by health care professionals to ensure they are evidence based and to avoid the use of noncredible information as a basis for critical decisions.

Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate health-related tweets on Twitter for validity (evidence based) and to create awareness in the community regarding the importance of evidence-based health-related tweets.

Methods: All tweets containing health-related information in the Arabic language posted April 1-5, 2015, were mined from Twitter. The tweets were classified based on popularity, activity, interaction, and frequency to obtain 25 Twitter accounts (8 physician accounts, 10 nonofficial health institute accounts, 4 dietitian accounts, and 3 government institute accounts) and 625 tweets. These tweets were evaluated by 3 American Board?certified medical coonsultants and a score was generated (true/false) and interobserver agreement was calculated.

Results: A total of 625 health-related Arabic-language tweets were identified from 8 physician accounts, 10 nonofficial health institute accounts, 4 dietician accounts, and 3 government institute accounts. The reviewers labeled 320 (51.2%) tweets as false and 305 (48.8%) tweets as true. Comparative analysis of tweets by account type showed 60 of 75 (80%) tweets by government institutes, 124 of 201 (61.7%) tweets by physicians, and 42 of 101 (41.6%) tweets by dieticians were true. The interobserver agreement was moderate (range 0.78-0.22). More than half of the health-related tweets (169/248, 68.1%) from nonofficial health institutes and dietician accounts (59/101, 58.4%) were false. Tweets by the physicians were more likely to be rated “true” compared to other groups (P<.001).

Conclusions: Approximately half of the medical tweets from professional accounts on Twitter were found to be false based on expert review. Furthermore, most of the evidence-based health-related tweets are posted by government institutes and physicians

SELECTED EXTRACTS (selected by Neil PW)

‘A study that investigated all posts with the words “Ebola” and “prevention” or “cure” from Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria showed that the most common misinformation was that Ebola might be cured by the plant ewedu or by blood transfusion’

‘A study in 2010 investigated status updated from 52,153 tweets with the combination “flu + antibiotics” and “cold + antibiotics” associated with misinformation. Results showed a total of 172,571 and 850,375 followers of misinformation, respectively, for the 2 combinations.’

‘Twitter is an online minefield of health-related information, which can considerably affect patient health.’

‘Furthermore, a group needs to be created including government institutes, physicians, other health care professionals, and researchers to ensure that online health care resources are current, credible, and reliable for patient use. This information should be available in a format that is user-friendly, comprehensible, and easily accessible.’

Below is the citation, abstract and selected extracts of an interesting paper in the Journal of Medical Internat Research. The authors comclude that ‘Twitter is an online minefield of health-related information, which can considerably affect patient health.’

CITATION: Alnemer KA, Alhuzaim WM, Alnemer AA, Alharbi BB, Bawazir AS, Barayyan OR, Balaraj FK

Are Health-Related Tweets Evidence Based? Review and Analysis of Health-Related Tweets on Twitter

J Med Internet Res 2015;17(10):e246

DOI: 10.2196/jmir.4898

Email: alnemerk [at] hotmail.com

Best wishes, Neil

Let’s build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare knowledge – Join HIFA: www.hifa2015.org  

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