A double-edged reality of the digital age:  most healthcare consumers get their drug safety information from the internet. Physicians and pharmacists must be prepared to address this issue.

Google searches generally turn up Wikipedia as a top source, and a recent Perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine quantified exactly what that means to consumers. Safety information for commonly consumed pharmaceuticals is generally updated on Wikipedia within two weeks. Drug for more rare diseases may not be updated for a year or more, per the report.

We also note that reputable websites are always going to have publication delays, and SEO tactics lead “click bait” sites to target these less common conditions with text which has no educational purpose or may even be deliberate diversion.

The latter is what every organization dedicated to informing the public about drug safety most fears, and yet it is impossible to police.  Neither the FDA nor pharma can respond to every piece of misinformation on the internet. Even if they could, it may not be possible for the consumer to make the link from the misinformation to the correction.

Consumers simply must confirm the source of their drug safety information, especially for less common diseases and treatments. We recommend that consumers review information and information sources on the internet with their doctors and pharmacists. Of course, this requires that doctors and pharmacists have a broad awareness of legitimate information sources and the fact that even those sources have drawbacks when it comes to the timeliness of information.

Thomas, J. et al. (2014, 26 June). Perspective: drug safety in the digital age. N Engl J Med; 370: 2460-2462. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1401767?rss=searchAndBrowse