Social media platforms like Twitter can be utilised as a data source to find beliefs and attitudes that may impact on patient’s decisions regarding their statin treatment, to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
According to the researchers from University of York in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, social media feeds could lead to people changing their dosage depending on what they had or were about to eat.
Researchers focused on social media as a less intrusive way to find out more about people’s attitudes to statins – rather than talking directly to patients about their behaviour and reasons.
The team read and analysed more than 11,000 posts from Twitter where a statin was mentioned over a period of five years.
Many of the posts were identified as a statin user or as someone who knows a statin user, or a health professional.
Of the over 1,000 posts analysed which focused on beliefs around medication, 72 per cent of the opinions or beliefs referred to risk compensation behaviours in which patients engage in behaviours such as poor diet and physical inactivity, perceiving themselves to be “protected” or at lower risk by virtue of taking preventative medications.
A further 11 per cent were in relation to the user’s own behaviour such as the freedom to eat an unhealthy diet.
One post read; “with Lipitor [type of statin] I eat as much bacon and cookies as I want” and others talked of increasing their dose of statins after unhealthy food.
Dr Su Golder from the Department of Health Sciences at University of York said: “Often in health surveys people when people are directly asked questions they will say what they think they “should” say and so this survey took a different approach by analysing publicly accessible sites where the subject of statins was being talked about freely”.
Some of the issues that came through were from people talking about their personal experiences, particularly muscle pain as being a key reason for stopping statins. There were also discussions about dosage, according to the research published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
“Posts indicated polarised beliefs and attitudes to statins from saving lives to causing death”.
The researchers said that Twitter may help inform research and improve public health messages and communication between health professionals and patients.