Infectious Disease

Twitter Reveals “Early Indicators” Of The Results Of COVID-19 On Sufferers With Rheumatic Illness

March 11, 2021

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The researchers do not report any relevant financial information.

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Use of Twitter often gave “early signals” of drug rationing and other critical behavioral changes in rheumatic patients as they navigated the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data published in Rheumatology.

“There is an active community of rheumatic and musculoskeletal patients on social media.” Katja Reuter, PhD, from EULAR in Zurich, Switzerland, and SUNY Upstate Medical University in Fayetteville, New York, reported Healio Rheumatology. “They share their experiences and this public data can help inform clinical practice and, in this particular case, management of a pandemic situation.”

Use of Twitter often gave “early signals” for drug rationing and other critical behavioral changes in rheumatic patients as they navigated the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data. Data derived from Reuter K, et al. Rheumatology. 2021; doi: 10.1093 / rheumatology / keab174.

“We analyzed public Twitter user data and identified some issues affecting the well-being of this disease community,” added Reuter. “We wanted to shed light on these health challenges and bring the conversation to the medical and clinical community.”

To investigate how the COVID-19 pandemic affected patients with rheumatic and musculoskeletal disorders in their own posts on Twitter, Reuter and colleagues collected a sample of tweets and performed a thematic analysis on the resulting data. The researchers analyzed 569 English-language tweets from 375 users in the UK, Portugal, the US, Taiwan, Australia and Canada, containing keywords and hashtags about COVID-19 and rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases.

Katja Reuter

For this study, such diseases were defined as ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, or gout. All tweets included were published between February 1, 2020 and July 14, 2020. The researchers used the BotOrNot program to exclude tweets from automated accounts. Tweets from fake or commercial accounts, retweets and messages from users who – neither in their Twitter profile nor in their tweets – clearly stated their rheumatic disease status were also excluded. The researchers reviewed the included tweets and grouped them into categories based on the content. Categories were developed based on research and input from experts.

According to the researchers, a total of eight topics emerged related to the impact of the pandemic on patients. These included a lack of understanding of COVID-19, critical changes in health behavior, challenges in health practice and communication with professionals, difficulties in accessing medical care, negative effects on physical and mental health, problems with participation in work, the negative impact of the media and growing awareness.

“The most striking thing for me was that members of this patient community shared in early February and March 2020 how they made potentially harmful changes to health behavior,” said Reuter. “They rationed their medicine or would cancel their medical appointments.”

“This type of patient-generated health data is not widely used in rheumatology research and practice, although it could provide valuable insight when looking into emerging patient needs and concerns,” she added. “We show that this data can also act as an alert system to identify trends that health teams may need to address, such as drug rationing.”

Co-author Elena Nikiphorou, MBBS / BSc (Hons), MRCP, MBBS, PGCME, MD (Res), FHEA, of King’s College London added that the research highlights an important unmet need: improving communication between health professionals and people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal disorders.

Elena Nikiphorou

“This is especially important in times of crisis like the current pandemic where we have to rely on other, less traditional methods to communicate with our patients as clinicians and other healthcare providers,” she told Healio Rheumatology. “In this regard, pandemics call for unique health communication and education strategies to support the public. The study shows a possible use of social media, in this case Twitter. “

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