What’s the background and how did you investigate it?
In 2014, a consortium of 20 partners led by the MHRA and funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), set out to find where and how social media can be useful for pharmacovigilance. The two main goals were to develop an online ADR reporting app for Android and iOS users, and investigate if the data from sources like Twitter and Facebook could be useful in signal detection.
What did the consortium find?
The online reporting app has been a success and is now deployed in the UK, the Netherlands, and Croatia. During the first year after release, the apps averaged more than 100 ADR reports per country. As for the other goal, the consortium does not recommend the use of general social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, for broad statistical signal detection. However, there may be added value derived from social media channels for specific niche areas such as those seen in the case studies related to drug abuse and pregnancy-related outcomes.
What does this mean for future applications of social media in pharmacovigilance?
A lot more work is needed before social media can be used in routine signal detection. The biggest hurdle is to find ADR mentions in social media posts and map them to a terminology like MedDRA. Even though the use case for broad signal detection is limited today, there are other areas, like signal validation, where more specific methods may be used to find relevant information. There are also other sources of information like online patient forums that could prove to be useful as well.