London | Using Facebook to raise awareness about the symptoms of inflammatory back pain and the need to seek medical help early may reduce the delay in diagnosis and treatment, scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have found.
The findings suggest that Facebook advertising may be a more effective way of identifying inflammatory back pain (IBP) patients earlier than other approaches, including newspaper adverts. In the management of IBP early diagnosis is key to reduce the risk of severe functional disability and early retirement.
Early diagnosis has become all the more important because biological therapies are available that effectively suppress disease activity and improve functional ability in patients who have been refractory to conventional drug therapy.
A previous study showed an average delay in diagnosis of more than eight years, with almost one-third of diagnosed patients not referred to a rheumatologist. This is partly due to a failure of individuals with IBP symptoms to present to their doctors, and partly to a failure of the doctors to recognise those patients with chronic back pain that have an inflammatory rather than a mechanical cause.
Patients with inflammatory back pain (IBP) can wait years for a correct diagnosis. Early treatment is critical in achieving better outcomes for these patients, said said Arumugam Moorthy from the University Hospitals of Leicester in the UK.
We applied a novel recruitment method using Facebook over five months to identify adults in the community with symptoms suggestive of IBP, comparing the outcome with other forms of recruitment, principally newspaper advertising, said Moorthy.
Facebook advertising recruited a younger group of respondents and a higher proportion of them fulfilled the criteria for a diagnosis of IBP compared to the group of patients recruited by other methods, he said. Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints.
However, the majority of these cases are due to a mechanical rather than an inflammatory cause. Patients with IBP typically experience severe lower back pain worse at night, not helped by rest, which can significantly interfere with an individual’s mental health, ability to work and quality of life.
Of the 585 participants in this study, just over three quarters were recruited through Facebook and under one quarter by other methods. The mean age of the Facebook group was typical of IBP at 41.5 years; the mean age of the non-Facebook group was higher at 59.4 years.
Three quarters of the patients were female. The majority of patients from each group reported consulting their doctor, however, few patients from either group had been referred to a rheumatologist.
About 45 per cent of the Facebook group reported having an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and 45 per cent an X-ray, whereas 50 per cent of the non-Facebook group reported having an MRI scan and 59 per cent said they had been for an X-ray.
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