The Adverse Drug Reactions from Patient Reports in Social Media Project: Five Major Challenges to Overcome to Operationalize Analysis and Efficiently Support Pharmacovigilance Process

JMIR Res Protoc. 2017 Sep 21;6(9):e179. doi: 10.2196/resprot.6463.


Background: Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are an important cause of morbidity and mortality. Classical Pharmacovigilance process is limited by underreporting which justifies the current interest in new knowledge sources such as social media. The Adverse Drug Reactions from Patient Reports in Social Media (ADR-PRISM) project aims to extract ADRs reported by patients in these media. We identified 5 major challenges to overcome to operationalize the analysis of patient posts: (1) variable quality of information on social media, (2) guarantee of data privacy, (3) response to pharmacovigilance expert expectations, (4) identification of relevant information within Web pages, and (5) robust and evolutive architecture.

Objective: This article aims to describe the current state of advancement of the ADR-PRISM project by focusing on the solutions we have chosen to address these 5 major challenges.

Methods: In this article, we propose methods and describe the advancement of this project on several aspects: (1) a quality driven approach for selecting relevant social media for the extraction of knowledge on potential ADRs, (2) an assessment of ethical issues and French regulation for the analysis of data on social media, (3) an analysis of pharmacovigilance expert requirements when reviewing patient posts on the Internet, (4) an extraction method based on natural language processing, pattern based matching, and selection of relevant medical concepts in reference terminologies, and (5) specifications of a component-based architecture for the monitoring system.

Results: Considering the 5 major challenges, we (1) selected a set of 21 validated criteria for selecting social media to support the extraction of potential ADRs, (2) proposed solutions to guarantee data privacy of patients posting on Internet, (3) took into account pharmacovigilance expert requirements with use case diagrams and scenarios, (4) built domain-specific knowledge resources embeding a lexicon, morphological rules, context rules, semantic rules, syntactic rules, and post-analysis processing, and (5) proposed a component-based architecture that allows storage of big data and accessibility to third-party applications through Web services.

Conclusions: We demonstrated the feasibility of implementing a component-based architecture that allows collection of patient posts on the Internet, near real-time processing of those posts including annotation, and storage in big data structures. In the next steps, we will evaluate the posts identified by the system in social media to clarify the interest and relevance of such approach to improve conventional pharmacovigilance processes based on spontaneous reporting.

Keywords: big data; medical terminology; natural language processing; pharmacovigilance; social media.