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Online Drug Information: Why You Can’t Trust the Internet

Online Drug Information: Why You Can’t Trust the Internet

“Medicine today invests heavily in information technology, yet the promised improvement in patient safety and productivity frankly have not been realized.” ~ Dr. Peter Pronovost, M.D., Senior Vice-President for Patient Safety and Quality and Director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins Hospital If you are like most people, you use your smartphone to look up information about EVERYTHING – including your healthcare and the medications you take. But WHAT IF the information on reputable websites you should be able to trust IS WRONG?

Prescription Medication Errors Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

For a doctor, dentist, or pharmacists, staying up-to-date with the latest guidelines and information every prescription drug can be virtually impossible, leading to more preventable Adverse Drug Events (ADEs) such as adverse reactions, dangerous drug interactions, or overdoses than you might think:

  • According to a 2013 report by researchers at Australia’s Edith Cowan University, medication errors are the eighth leading cause of death in America.
  • There are almost 700,000 emergency room visits annually in America due to ADEs.
  • ADEs also account for 100,000 hospitalizations each year.
  • Nearly 1 out of every 20 hospitalized patients have been affected by an ADE.
  • The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that there were 18,893 fatal overdose deaths due to prescription opioids in the United States in 2014.

One of the most dangerous errors that can occur has to do with individual medications’ potential for abuse – many patients are unaware of, or at most, under-informed about, the possibility of physical dependence, misuse, and addiction. Some even believe that it is impossible to become addicted to a legitimately-prescribed drug.

Statistics about the Use of Online Drug Information

The sheer volume information is overwhelming, for patients and doctors alike – there are more than 10,000 prescription medications available in the United States, and 1 out of every 3 American adults takes five or more medications.

  • Worldwide, 500 MILLION people with smartphones use a healthcare application
  • By 2018, the number of downloads is expected to more than triple –to 1.7 BILLION.
  • In 2013, 35% of consumers accessed prescription drug information via the Internet.
  • That percentage is up from 23% in 2011.
  • 45% of healthcare providers use a smartphone to lookup drug information on websites like WebMD or Epocrates.
  • 1 out of every 3 doctors uses information from their smartphone to make prescribing decisions

Are There REALLY That Many Errors on Drug Information Websites?

“The use of inaccurate drug information may result in preventable patient harm, such as life-threatening overdose with opioids…” ~Drs. Sonia Talwar, Amarita Randhawa, Erica Dankiewicz, and Nancy Crudele, PharmDs, and Dr. J. David Haddox, DDS, MD, “Caveat Emptor: Erroneous Safety Information about Opioids in Online Drug-Information Compendia” Medication errors because of the use of inaccurate drug information on the Internet is a serious problem. According to a report published in the July/August 2016 issue of the Journal of Opioid Management, a significant portion of the opioid prescription drug information found online was either omitted, incomplete, inaccurate or disseminated misinformation some other way. Over the course of the study, seven online drug information sites were reviewed, and 859 errors were found. Particular attention was paid to safety information – precautions, drug interactions, adverse reactions, and other warnings. 255 of the errors were in the “safety” subcategory. Here’s where the real problem arises – the websites were made aware of the errors, but at the time of the report’s publication, two-thirds of the errors remain currently unresolved, including:

  • Safety errors – 28%
  • Patient education errors – 16%
  • Abuse potential – 11%

Don’t Trust the Internet with Your Medical Decisions

So, if the Internet shouldn’t be your “go-to” resource for information about your prescription medications, then what ARE some safe, trusted sources?

  • The Food and Drug Administration
  • The medication’s Full Prescribing Information (FPI)

Remember, you, as the patient are your own best advocate – ask questions and hold your prescribed accountable. It is your health that is on the line.