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Using Social Media Data in Routine Pharmacovigilance: A Pilot Study to Identify Safety Signals and Patient Perspectives

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Social media is recognized as a new source of patient perspectives and data on adverse events (AEs) in pharmacovigilance (PV). Questions remain about how social media data can supplement routine PV surveillance.


The objectives of this pilot were to determine whether analysis of social media data could identify (1) new signals, (2) known signals from routine PV, (3) known signals sooner, and (4) specific issues (i.e., quality issues and patient perspectives). Also of interest was to determine the quantity of ‘posts with resemblance to AEs’ (proto-AEs) and the types and characteristics of products that would benefit from social media analysis.


AbbVie conducted a study using 26 months of retrospectively collected social media data from Epidemico, Inc., a third-party vendor, for six products. Posts were classified, interpreted, de-identified, and filtered before analysis.


Analysis of social media data did not identify new or previously identified safety signals. The use of traditional PV methods to analyze social media data was unsuccessful. However, analysis of social media data did provide insights into medication tolerability, adherence, quality of life, and patient perspectives but not into device and product quality issues. The quantity of proto-AEs and new information gleaned from social media posts was small.


The results suggest that, for selected products, social media data analysis cannot identify new safety signals. However, social media can provide unique insight into the patient perspective. Assessment was limited by numerous factors, such as data acquisition, language, and demographics. Further research is necessary to determine the best uses of social media data to augment traditional PV surveillance.

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  1. The full listing of patient forums for each product is included in the electronic supplementary material.

  2. In October 2015, Facebook data were withdrawn after changes to its API restricting access to public data to all third parties.


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Epidemico Inc., and staff provided access to data and training but did not influence the data analysis, results, conclusions, or content of this manuscript. Epidemico Inc. had an opportunity to review drafts of this manuscript. The authors acknowledge the following groups within AbbVie that supported the review of the social media data and tool used in this analysis: Medical Safety Operations, Medical Safety Assessment, Medical Safety Evaluation, Epidemiology, Contact Center, Aggregate Safety, Safety Technology Solutions, and Data Management. Contractual medical writing support was provided by Mia DeFino, MS, PharmaStart, LLC, Northbrook, IL, USA. Her role was to organize the work by providing an outline to the multiple authors (each contributing to specific sections), compile the various drafts to allow for ease of review by all authors and edit and finalize the supportive tables.

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Correspondence to Mondira Bhattacharya.

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AbbVie Inc. paid for access to data through the Epidemico Inc. platform, including time from Epidemico Inc. staff to train AbbVie personnel on data review. Mia DeFino, MS, received compensation for medical writing support.

Conflict of interest

Mondira Bhattacharya, Scott Snyder, Murray Malin, Melissa M. Truffa, Sandy Marinic, Rachel Engelmann, and Ritu R. Raheja are employees of AbbVie Inc. and are shareholders of AbbVie stock.

Ethical standards

Internal authorship standards were followed in that only individuals who contributed to the design and conduct and analysis of the research were co-authors of the manuscript. Data were de-identified (Sect. 2.1).

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 65 kb)

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Bhattacharya, M., Snyder, S., Malin, M. et al. Using Social Media Data in Routine Pharmacovigilance: A Pilot Study to Identify Safety Signals and Patient Perspectives. Pharm Med 31, 167–174 (2017).

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