Twitter can spread inaccurate medical information

As more patients find themselves on Twitter, it’s concerning the amount of medical misinformation that they can be exposed to.

Now, in a study from the American Journal of Infection Control, we have some data to back up that assertion.

Over a 4-month period in 2009, hundreds of Twitter users posted inaccurate antibiotic information, which, in turn, was re-tweeted to millions.

According to the study’s author, “”When we looked at tweets… we found that there are some basic categories like general mentioning of antibiotics or complaints about side effects and things like that, but there was also a category that was pretty interesting where people were indicating misuse or misunderstanding of antibiotics.”

Although the number of Tweets that contained misinformation was small, estimated to be about 2%, that still is enough to be transmitted to tens of thousands of patients.

That’s a major reason why medical professionals need to become more active on Twitter and Facebook. Not to give personal health advice, of course, but to “flood the web” with legitimate health information, and to provide patients with reputable medical sources.

Patients are increasingly turning to the web for medical advice, whether doctors like it or not. It’s up to us to provide much needed online guidance.