Drug Safety Information in the Digital Age — NEJM Finds Fault with FDA & Wikipedia, But Not Pharma | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News | Scoop.it

The Internet is increasingly redefining the ways in which people interact with information related to their health. The Pew Internet Project estimates that more than half of all Americans sought health information online in 2013, mostly through search engines such as Google and websites such as Wikipedia and WebMD.


In this digital age, engaging with new media offers an unparalleled opportunity for medical and public health professionals to find information they need and to interactively reach out to patients and their support networks. One domain where these capabilities may have far-reaching effects that are currently undefined is drug safety. As the volume of health-related information on the Internet has grown, important questions have emerged. How are messages from regulators — for example, warnings against using a drug in a specific patient population — diffused digitally? And are the messages still accurate when they reach the general population?


Overall, 23% of Wikipedia pages were updated more than 2 weeks after the FDA warning was issued (average, 42 days), and 36% of pages remained unchanged more than 1 year later (as of January 2014).


Public health officials have historically focused on printed drug labels and “Dear Health Care Provider” letters from the FDA, but new technologies offer the opportunity to reach patients and physicians more efficiently and effectively. We believe the first step should be improving the accessibility of drug information available through the FDA's website.


Another approach to promoting accurate dissemination of drug-safety information is active participation in the online curation of medical information. In 2008, the FDA partnered with WebMD to bring public health announcements to all registered users and to quickly integrate this information into WebMD's suite of Web pages. A digital strategy for drug safety could expand this model to include other sites that are highly frequented by the public, including websites for disease-specific patient-support and patient-advocacy organizations. Our findings also suggest that there may be a benefit to enabling the FDA to update or automatically feed new safety communications to Wikipedia pages, as it does with WebMD.