(HealthDay News) – Twitter can teach health care providers about popular health-related beliefs regarding acne, according to a research letter published in the May issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Melissa Shive, from the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues used real-time data capture from the Twitter Streaming Application Programming Interface (API) to collect all tweets that contained one or more of five keywords: pimple, pimples, zit, zits, and acne during a two-week period (June 10–June 23, 2012). An additional one-week retweet count for each tweet was monitored. Tweets were categorized into personal, celebrity, education, and irrelevant/excluded categories, with the education category further subdivided into disease question, disease information, treatment question, treatment information (branded or non-branded), and treatment information (ambiguous).

The researchers found that, from 8,192 English high-impact tweets (of a total of 392,617 tweets collected), personal tweets about acne were the most common type of high-impact tweets (43.1%), followed by tweets about celebrities (20.4%), and then education-related tweets (27.1%). Disease information and treatment information accounted for 16.9% and 8.9%, respectively, of all high-impact tweets. Stress as a cause of pimples was asserted in two-thirds of disease-question tweets. Acne home remedies were commonly suggested. There was a strong discrepancy in both the topics and language used to talk about acne in word frequency comparisons between the American Academy of Dermatology website and Twitter.

“Health providers can not only learn about the perceptions and misperceptions of diseases like acne, but they might also communicate reliable medical information,” the authors write.

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