Looking for medical information on Internet message boards can be risky for consumers. Some of it is confusing, misleading or downright wrong. But for medical researchers, all that chatter can yield some valuable insights.
Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania, for example, are mining message boards and Twitter feeds to see what breast-cancer and prostate-cancer patients are saying about herbal and nutritional supplements—including whether they take them and why and what side effects they encounter.
Gunther Eysenbach, a University of Toronto professor who founded the Journal of Medical Internet Research in 1999, says he used to worry about the gap between evidence-based medicine and what people post—until he realized that the Internet can be a great source for information epidemiology, or what he calls “infodemiology.”
The study, which is funded by the National Library of Medicine and named Mining Internet Messages for Evidence of Herbal-Associated Adverse Events, or MICE for short, will assess more than one million posts. The researchers say they can’t discuss any findings yet because their work is continuing, but they hope to conclude the study later this year.
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The project received $482,925 on September 30, 2009 and $496,998 in 2010.
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