Introduction: Post-marketing safety surveillance primarily relies on data from spontaneous adverse event reports, medical literature, and observational databases. Limitations of these data sources include potential under-reporting, lack of geographic diversity, and time lag between event occurrence and discovery. There is growing interest in exploring the use of social media ('social listening') to supplement established approaches for pharmacovigilance. Although social listening is commonly used for commercial purposes, there are only anecdotal reports of its use in pharmacovigilance. Health information posted online by patients is often publicly available, representing an untapped source of post-marketing safety data that could supplement data from existing sources.
Objectives: The objective of this paper is to describe one methodology that could help unlock the potential of social media for safety surveillance.
Methods: A third-party vendor acquired 24 months of publicly available Facebook and Twitter data, then processed the data by standardizing drug names and vernacular symptoms, removing duplicates and noise, masking personally identifiable information, and adding supplemental data to facilitate the review process. The resulting dataset was analyzed for safety and benefit information.
Results: In Twitter, a total of 6,441,679 Medical Dictionary for Regulatory Activities (MedDRA(®)) Preferred Terms (PTs) representing 702 individual PTs were discussed in the same post as a drug compared with 15,650,108 total PTs representing 946 individual PTs in Facebook. Further analysis revealed that 26 % of posts also contained benefit information.
Conclusion: Social media listening is an important tool to augment post-marketing safety surveillance. Much work remains to determine best practices for using this rapidly evolving data source.