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Medical Misinformation Can Spread Quickly Via 'Tweets'
Date:4/2/2010

just what people are doing, said Bradford Hesse, chief of the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

While social networking sites, and the Internet in general, are making more health information available to the public than ever before, the "data smog" is making people more likely to turn to doctors for help with medical decisions, according to a survey in the March 4 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Even as more people research their conditions or seek out opinions about medications and treatment on the Internet, trust in the information has dropped, said Hesse, one of the NEJM study authors. "People are getting a little more cynical and a little more savvy about it."

At the same time, trust in physicians has risen, Hesse said. People are taking what they learned on the Internet with them to their doctors, looking to trained experts to help them interpret what they're reading.

"The Internet is not going to replace doctors, and we are not going to replace people with credible information," Hesse said. "Even though people rely on these technologies more than ever, they are also more frustrated with these technologies."

Launched in July 2006, Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to post updates of up to 140 characters either on the Web, instant message or text message via mobile phone, according to background information in the article.

Much of what is on Twitter is excruciatingly mundane, such as this example from the study: "Got more antibiotics from doc. Hope these ones finally get rid of this cough."

But Twitter has been used for more serious purposes, including by NASA to update the status of space shuttle flights.

Twitter reached 1 billion tweets in November 2008. It had an estimated 44.5 million visitors as of June 2008 with a median age of 31 years, accordi
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