London: Social networking site Facebook can effectively be used to raise awareness about the symptoms of inflammatory back pain (IBP) and play a key role in early diagnosis of the chronic affliction, a study involving an Indian-origin researcher says. "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 Arumugam Moorthy of Britain's University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust. Moorthy's team used Facebook over five months to identify adults in the community with symptoms suggestive of IBP and compared the outcome with other forms of recruitment -- principally newspaper advertising. "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 explained. The study findings were presented recently at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress in London. Although most (81 per cent) of the chronic back pain patients the researchers recruited through Facebook had consulted their GP, only 13 per cent had actually been referred to a rheumatologist, according to Moorthy. In the management of IBP, early diagnosis is key to reduce the risk of severe functional disability. Correct diagnosis depends largely on the pattern of clinical symptoms and signs in addition to magnetic resonance imaging. 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 in Britain. This is partly due to a failure of individuals with IBP symptoms to present to their general practitioner, 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.