Researchers have sifted through more than two billion tweets and online posts to study the side effects of opioid pain medicine.
Led by the Cedars-Sinai Center for Outcomes Research and Education, researchers reviewed the posts about the side effects of pain medication.
“Social media can be used as a huge epidemiological database, a treasure-trove of insights from patients about their illness experiences, their treatments, and their attitudes and beliefs about health and disease,” said Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, director of Cedars-Sinai Health Services Research and director of the Center for Outcomes Research and Education.
The study appears in the Journal of Opioid Management.
Researchers collected 2.5 million tweets and 217,000 posts from health-related social networking websites, using keywords such as “pain meds,” “bloating” and “nausea.” They also searched for the names of several pain-controlling narcotics, including hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone.
“Social media provides the opportunity to make observations about patient populations outside of a clinical or research context,” said Corey Arnold, PhD, from the UCLA Medical Imaging and Informatics Group. “We were able to filter key signals from the noise in these massive datasets, allowing us to more efficiently distill important patient perspectives that can inform clinical care.”
Gastrointestinal issues from narcotics, including nausea, vomiting and constipation, were the most frequently cited issue from the dataset. Many people described that severe constipation that was even more debilitating than their underlying illnesses.
Cedars-Sinai and UCLA researchers said that sifting through social media allowed them to generalize their findings to a broader population and showed them how healthcare providers can improve patient care.
“These types of insights provide a blueprint for how to do better,” Spiegel said. “By informing doctors and prescribers about these results, we can hopefully improve the communication and shared decision-making between doctor and patient around pain medications.”