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In the first part of this two article series about health information on social media platforms, we presented a framework for interpreting information directly from the platforms.1 In this article, we present a users’ guide to help clinicians appraise and interpret studies that use data from these platforms. With the increased use of social media for various aspects of health, a parallel increase in the number of published studies that use data derived from social media has emerged.2–4 Such studies may aim to determine the accuracy of health information on platforms or perform a content analysis to determine patient’s perspectives, values, trends or attitudes regarding medical care. If poorly conducted and reported, such studies may also prove misleading.
Patients are increasingly accessing the internet and peer-reviewed publications to inform medical decisions.5 While patients report that physician information is the most trusted source, 48.6% of patients still consult online sources first due to ease of accessibility, convenience and immediacy.5 From the perspective of the physician, the volume of peer-reviewed literature has also been steadily growing6 and, unsurprisingly, publications of poorly conducted and low-quality studies are common and may impact physician education and the care that they deliver to patients. For instance, studies deriving data from social media platforms may be carried out inappropriately with insufficient regard for platform selection, sample size and search strategy which may lead to flawed conclusions that may misinform clinicians. Thus, similar to appraising clinical studies and systematic reviews for adherence to a high-quality standard, clinicians should have basic skills to allow appraisal and proper interpretation of studies deriving data from social media platforms.
To develop a framework for appraisal of this type of studies, we adapted the JAMA Users’ Guide for systematic reviews.7 Here, we offer guidance for healthcare professionals …
Contributors RDS: helped with study conception and design, background of research, analysis and interpretation of data, revised the manuscript critically for intellectual content and gave final approval of the manuscript. LD and WMH: helped perform background of research and drafted portions of the manuscript. GG: helped perform background of research, data collection and drafted portions of the manuscript. MHM: helped with study conception and design, performed data collection, revised manuscript critically for intellectual content and gave final approval of the manuscript.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.