Can you trust the medical information you find online? A content and network analysis of social media posts about pediatric pain and children’s sleep [Study]

The Internet and social media platforms are rife with health misinformation. For example, as little as 10% of health information on diabetes in the blogosphere found to be based on peer review biomedical literature. Despite this fact, the number of people turning to the Internet to search for health-related information continues to grow, according to a Pew Internet study.

Many of the people who are turning to the Internet and social media for health-related information and advice are parents. According to one study, 34% of parents has turned to social media to look up health information for their children. But what are parents finding when they go searching for this type of information online. To answer this question, a group of interdisciplinary scholars, including physicians and social media researchers (Michelle Tougas, Christine Chambers, Penny Corkum, Julie Robillard, Anatoliy Gruzd, Vivian Howard, Andrea Kampen, Katelynn Boerner, and Amos Hundert) set out to examine how and by whom information related to child health is being shared over social media.

Specifically, in their recently released study, “Social Media Content About Children’s Pain and Sleep: Content and Network Analysis” (published in JMIR Pediatrics and Parenting), the researchers examined the content of social media posts about children’s (medical-related) pain and sleep-related issues, two rarely explored topics, to determine the level of research evidence in these posts. In particular, they wanted to know to what extent social media posts about children’s sleep related issues and pain management discussions were evidence-based.

As part of their study, they identified and analyzed nearly 1500 pain-related and 3800 sleep-related posts from 3 major social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). The results showed that across all 3 major social media platforms, posts about pediatric pain had a higher percentage of posts consistent with (peer-review) research evidence on pediatric pain (22%) compared to post about child sleep-related issues (9%). The rest of the posts were either inconsistent with or absent of evidence. Posts about pediatric pain are more often contrary to currently accepted medical research evidence (5%) in comparison to posts about child sleep (3%).

Different platforms exhibited different types of discrepancies in the kind of information shared depending on the topic (child pain or sleep). For example, Twitter was used most often to share knowledge about child pain, and personal experiences for child sleep. For both topics, Instagram posts shared personal experiences, Facebook group posts shared personal experiences and Facebook pages shared knowledge.

The study provides early insights on what information about pediatric pain management and children’s sleep-related health issues parents are encountering when they go on social media. The findings demonstrate why it is more important than ever for medical professionals and medical communicators who are on social media to always include evidence-based research information directly within social media posts.

Please cite as:
Tougas ME, Chambers CT, Corkum P, Robillard JM, Gruzd A, Howard V, Kampen A, Boerner KE, Hundert AS Social Media Content About Children’s Pain and Sleep: Content and Network Analysis JMIR Pediatr Parent 2018;1(2):e11193 DOI: 10.2196/11193

By Melodie Song and Philip Mai