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J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2012 Feb;7(1):71-80. doi: 10.1525/jer.2012.7.1.71.

The potential influence of Internet-based social networking on the conduct of clinical research studies.

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University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


The rapid growth of internet usage has led to an explosion of social networking sites for discussion of health issues. This provides a forum for subjects to communicate with one another during the course of the studies. Previous studies have raised concerns about the quality of health information on social networking sites, although none have evaluated content related to ongoing clinical trials. We reviewed material posted in virtual communities by self-identified clinical trial participants. We identified material posted in online health forums that could introduce bias into clinical research studies; we believe that this issue warrants further study and discussion. Physicians and others who conduct clinical trials should be aware of this issue. Study investigators and research teams should also talk to their study subjects about where and how they are obtaining information in order to prevent behaviors and correct misinformation that could put a subject's safety or the study objectives at risk. Given the rapid increase in Internet use for health care, a broader evaluation of both the benefits and potential risks of social networking among research participants during the course of a clinical trial appears warranted.

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