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Ignore Dr. Twitter's Advice if You're Sick, Study Says

When it comes to catching up on news or celebrity gossip, Twitter's great. When it comes to getting valid medical advice, though, Twitter's not so good. While many of us are aware that searching the Web for information on medical treatment or diagnoses can often result in a bevy of unfounded recommendations or fallacious claims, the odds of finding reliable consultations on Twitter are even smaller, indicates new research from Columbia University.

As Arstechnica reports, a study published in the April issue of 'AJIC: American Journal of Infection Control' finds that Twitter users are especially prone to spreading misinformation about antibiotics. After examining a sample of over 50,000 tweets, researchers were able to divide the categories of antibiotic-related tweets into eleven sections, including side effects, diagnosis, advice/information, misunderstanding/misuse and animals. Among the most popular topics of discussion were both advice or information about antibiotic use, as well as feedback about negative reactions to certain medicines. Oftentimes, the information shared among users was misleading, or plain incorrect. More worrisome, though, is the apparent carelessness with which Twitter users approached antibiotics. Many people offered to share their leftover medication with their followers, while others exchanged tips on how to stretch out a drug supply to stay within the limits of their insurance allowances.

Instead of harping on the reckless behavior of Twitter users, though, the researchers used their findings to point out the potential for health care professionals to use the medium to propagate real information. The authors argue that if more doctors actually embraced Twitter, they could better "identify potential misuse or misunderstanding of antibiotics, promote positive behavior change, and disseminate valid information." The Internet, as a whole, will always be rife with misinformation and medical red herrings. But as professionals have familiarized themselves with the platform, and as we've become more astute consumers of information, we've been able, for the most part, to separate the wheat from the charlatan chaff. Twitter remains foreign territory for many, and when it comes to medical advice, it clearly isn't sophisticated enough to organically support reliable peer review. With an influx of professional wisdom, that could all change. [From: Arstechnica]

Tags: advice, antibiotics, health, medicine, misinformation, socialnetworking, twitter, web