Pharmaceutical companies have long used data to assess their drugs’ uptake. Weekly TRx and NRx stats show whether prescriptions surged or slumped. These industry metrics provide an accurate snapshot, but don’t reveal the “why” behind the behavior.

“When a drug comes out, we’re seeing everything,” said Ido Hadari, CEO of Treato, the Israeli health social media company. Its two-year-old business portal, which rebranded from Treato Pharma to Treato IQ this month, aggregates more than 1.5 billion caregiver and patient conversations. Said Hadari, “We scale it down to a digestible manner and share insights in a clear way.”

Pharma has been slow to adopt social media. One main concern involves the reporting requirements associated with pharmacovigilance. Research released this month by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, for example, looked at 12 companies’ adoption of social media for use in clinical research. Adverse event reporting was cited as their top concern about social media use.

The Tufts researchers found that the majority (9/12) of companies are not “actively” gathering adverse event (AE) reports on any social media sites, but most (9/12) use social media to “passively” monitor AEs. Furthermore, about half (7/13) regularly engage in “social listening” to learn about marketed drugs. Reasons include monitoring perceptions about a product, shaping ad campaigns, and gauging community receptivity.

This represents a big shift, said Hadari. “Organizationally, culturally, companies are changing,” he says. “A few years ago, we roamed the corridors of pharma and got a polite, ‘Hey, I gave at the office already.’ Social media was for measuring sentiment for, like, a Ford F-150. Anything beyond using it for that was scary. Today the world has changed.”

Now, nine of the top 50 pharma companies in the US pay to get Treato’s insights into where patients are on their treatment journey (newly vs. previously diagnosed), plus data on such behaviors as drug switching, starting and stopping, and the reasons behind each, including side effects or financial considerations.

It’s one of several big data platforms promising to fill research gaps by decoding the avalanche of analytics being culled from social media and electronic health records. The tools hold promise for helping drugmakers allocate their promotional and educational budgets in smarter fashion.

Another tool comes from Practice Fusion, the company that offers free EHRs to doctors. Its real-time healthcare database, called Insight, launched in May and allows physicians, researchers and analysts to access analysis sourced from a de-identified subset of more than 81 million patient records.

Insight users can explore health and pharma market trends, including diagnoses across patient populations, all in real time. A premium version offers more in-depth, granular analyses such as Rx switching.

Because Treato’s analytics draw from the social web—including Facebook and WebMD Health but mostly small patient communities—Treato can show the context behind patients’ switch decisions.

“We pull a million conversations a day from the internet, parse through and reject a good half million as spam and advertisements,” in order to get at the patient’s personal experience, said chief commercial officer Ezra Ernst.

“A newly diagnosed patient has a completely different perspective than a previously diagnosed patient,” he said. Treato’s system aggregates the conversations and uses natural-language processing and medical ontologies to sift out the conditions and treatments from patients’ slang and misspellings, and gets at their root issue.

Treato’s IQ platform draws from the same data as the free patient portal, whose top searches are fed back into the pharma portal to create a dashboard of sorts. Among the other things that are interesting to brand managers, said Ernst, is the patient version of what their physicians are saying about a drug.

“Pharma spends millions on physician education, trying to teach doctors to say specific things about their treatment,” said Ernst, who joined last year from WebMD, where he was head of CME. “Treato allows you to see specific things patients say their doctor said and why. There are very few places you can find out ‘did my education work?’”

One improvement of IQ over the last two versions of Treato Pharma, Ernst said, is that this one integrates condition and brand discussions. Older versions housed these discussions on separate platforms.