More than half of pharmacists have been asked about medicines that patients had seen on social media, finds survey

Exclusive: In a survey of nearly 1,600 pharmacists, 910 said a patient had asked them about medicines or products they had seen on social media.
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Almost 60% of pharmacists have been asked about medicines patients have seen on social media, a survey of more than 1,500 UK pharmacists by The Pharmaceutical Journal has revealed.

The most commonly asked about medicines were those related to weight loss and COVID-19, as well as cannabis-based medicines and cannabidiol (CBD) oil.

The Pharmaceutical Journal’s annual salary and job satisfaction survey was sent out to more than 24,000 pharmacists across the UK in July 2022.

Of the 1,594 UK-based pharmacists who responded to the question about social media, 910 (57%) said they had been asked about a medicine or product that a patient had seen on social media.

When asked which medicines were asked about specifically, answers ranged from erectile dysfunction medicines and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), to cancer treatments and statins.

However, the most commonly asked about medicines were those to do with weight loss, with 54 respondents asked about these. Respondents said some patients asked for information on specific medicines, both licensed products — Saxenda (liraglutide; Novo Nordisk), semaglutide and orlistat — and unlicensed — chlorobutanol, liothyronine and Trulicity (dulaglutide; Eli Lilly and Company).

CBD oil and cannabis-based products were the next most asked about product, with 48 respondents saying they were asked about these, while 39 respondents said they were asked about medicines or vaccines for COVID-19.

One respondent said: “Women are more likely than men to do this.”

“They follow advice from Facebook or Instagram believing unevidenced experiences of advocates. Many are obscure but some may be clinically appropriate considerations. Others may be dangerous to health. Sometimes I am unable to comment for lack of information.”

Another respondent said they were asked about medicines seen on social media “all the time”.

“Lots of chat about different HRT options at the moment, including testosterone,” they said.

“A lot of the time it’s good that patients are doing their own research, as long as they have reasonable expectations. Often we get requests for things we can’t prescribe, like finasteride for hair loss, and certain supplements/probiotics. Sometimes we get patients concerned about their prescribed meds because they’ve heard some bad science on social media (e.g. statins, PPIs [proton pump inhibitors]). 

“We got a lot of requests for Freestyle Libre from ineligible patients when it first came out, from patients who read diabetes forums etc,” they continued.

Freestyle Libre is a glucose monitoring system.

Another pharmacist said that the social media platform TikTok was the “worst culprit” for providing information about symptoms and the medicines used to treat them. And one said that they were sometimes asked about drugs that are available in the United States but not licensed or widely used in the UK.

“Milnacipran was a recent example,” they said. “Usually patients would have heard about these from reading articles or support groups on Facebook for the condition they might/do have.”

Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said it was “very encouraging” to see people asking their pharmacists for sound advice about medicines they have seen online.

“It demonstrates their trust in the profession as the experts in medicines and they are absolutely right to check out what they’ve seen on social media, where anything goes in terms of medicines information.”

Helga Mangion, policy manager at the National Pharmacy Association, said that whatever patients see on social media, they should get their medicines from a reliable, regulated source, such as their local community pharmacist.

“With so much medical-related content circulating on social media, it’s important to have that trusted professional who can interpret information and help people make informed choices,” she added.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, September 2022, Vol 309, No 7965;309(3965)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2022.1.157538

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