Facebook reaches younger patients who stand to benefit by early treatment of inflammatory back pain

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Facebook advertising can help speed patients with inflammatory back pain (IBP) toward appropriate diagnostic procedures—including imaging with MRI rather than X-ray and observation by a rheumatology specialist rather than a primary-care doc—as well as toward proper treatment.

So said the authors of a U.K. study presented in London June 9 at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress, according to a press release sent from the conference.

Dr. Arumugam Moorthy of University Hospitals of Leicester told session attendees that, in the management of IBP, early diagnosis is key to reduce the risk of severe functional disability and early retirement.

Moorthy pointed to a previous U.K. study showing an average delay in diagnosis of more than eight years, with almost one-third of diagnosed patients not referred to a rheumatologist.

Moorthy said his team looked at the cases of 585 patients who responded to educational communications suggesting that, if they have chronic back pain with particular signs and symptoms, it may have an inflammatory rather than a mechanical cause.

Of the 585 respondents, more than 75 percent were recruited through Facebook. The rest were recruited by newspaper ads and other traditional media.  

The mean age of the Facebook group skewed younger, at 41.5 years, while the mean age of the non-Facebook group was 59.4 years.

As for imaging, the differences were notable though not stark: 45 percent of the Facebook group reported having an MRI scan and 45 percent an X-ray, while 50 percent of the non-Facebook group reported having an MRI scan and 59 percent said they had received an X-ray.

“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,” Moorthy said, according to the press release.

Meanwhile, although most of the patients recruited through Facebook (81 percent) had consulted their general practitioner, only 13 percent were referred to a rheumatologist.

This latter finding confirms the need for additional education of general practitioners, Moorthy said.