A new paper on the Internet “pharmacovigilance” explored how users taking multiple drugs cold be used to determine unreported side effects, by analyzing search queries. From the abstract:
Adverse drug events cause substantial morbidity and mortality and are often discovered after a drug comes to market. We hypothesized that Internet users may provide early clues about adverse drug events via their online information-seeking. We conducted a large-scale study of Web search log data gathered during 2010. We pay particular attention to the specific drug pairing of paroxetine and pravastatin, whose interaction was reported to cause hyperglycemiaafter the time period of the online logs used in the analysis. We also examine sets of drug pairs known to be associated with hyperglycemia and those not associated with hyperglycemia. We find that anonymized signals on drug interactions can be mined from search logs. Compared to analyses of other sources such as electronic health records (EHR), logs are inexpensive to collect and mine. The results demonstrate that logs of the search activities of populations of computer users can contribute to drug safety surveillance.
The New York Times summarizes:
They determined that people who searched for both drugs during the 12-month period were significantly more likely to search for terms related to hyperglycemia than were those who searched for just one of the drugs. (About 10 percent, compared with 5 percent and 4 percent for just one drug.)
They also found that people who did the searches for symptoms relating to both drugs were likely to do the searches in a short time period: 30 percent did the search on the same day, 40 percent during the same week and 50 percent during the same month.