23 August 2019

Dutch social media regularly post about the safety of medicines for pregnant women. Many pregnant women use these posts as a source of information. A new analysis shows, however, that information found on social media about the risk of medication use often does not correspond with guidelines.
Researchers of the Radboud university medical center published their results in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

The study describes more than 1200 posts on social media platforms, ranging from online forums and blogs to Twitter and Facebook. 43% of these did not comply with the safety guidelines of the Teratology Information Service, the center of expertise for the effects of medication on pregnancy, the child and breastfeeding. Because many women do look online for information about the use of medication during their pregnancy, such erroneous information can influence their choices in a negative way.

How often information was correct or incorrect was not the same for all the posts. For medication with clear guidelines ("it's safe" or "it's not safe"), the posts were correct four out of five times. The more nuanced categories were more error-prone. For medicines lacking information to give advice to pregnant women, the posts were correct in 24% of the cases. For medication that is only prescribed on strict indication, only 7% was correct. These last two categories were often incorrectly described as either "safe" or "not safe."

The researchers point out two important implications of the research. First, more research needs to be conducted into the safety of medication use during pregnancy, so that medicines can be categorized less ambiguously. Secondly, the fact that much of the information that is shared on social media is incorrect argues in favor of the need for clear communication by healthcare providers about the use of medication during pregnancy. Lead researcher Marleen van Gelder: “This applies in particular to medication that is prescribed on strict indication, such as antidepressants. Because it is not just the person who puts the post on the internet who has an incorrect image of the safety; previous studies have also shown that this type of information can influence the decisions of pregnant women who read these posts.”

Marleen van Gelder is member of theme Healthcare improvement science.

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