Individuals with back and neck pain on medical forums: What do they mention? What do they fear?

Igor Mintz, Asaf Weisman, Shmuel Springer, Uri Gottlieb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: The use of online medical forums is on the rise globally. Data scraping is a method of extracting website content using an automated computer program. We scraped users’ questions regarding back and neck pain (BNP) from popular Israeli online medical forums. We aimed to identify the sort of questions being asked about BNP, and to analyse explicit themes that characterize their questions. Methods: Six leading Israeli BNP forums were identified. In phase 1, Python scripts scraped 12,418 questions into a data set. In phase 2 – five themes were identified: Surgery (n = 2,957); health care professions (n = 2,361); Sports (n = 2,304); drugs (n = 1,419) and interpretation of imaging (n = 845). Phase 3 – included the categorization of explicit fear-related words by the authors. Phase 4 – analysis of explicit fear-related themes yielded 402 questions. Results: Gender was identified for 394 users, and age was identified for 181 users. A total of 248 users (61.6%) were women and 146 men (36.3%). Mean age 36.3 ± 16.15 for women and 35.5 ± 16.1 for men. The most commonly expressed fears were related to: invasive procedures, 30.9% (131 questions); fear of serious condition or misdiagnosis, 17.0% (72 questions); General concerns, 13.7% (58 questions); fear of worsening or relapse, 12.3% (52 questions); adverse effects of oral drugs or radiation, 10.8% (46 questions) and concerns related to lifestyle, 9.7% (41 questions). Conclusions: Web scraping is a feasible strategy with which to explore medical forums and the above-mentioned themes, all of which are of potential clinical significance. Significance: Using automated algorithms, a total of 12,369 questions from online back and neck medical forums were scraped and analysed. Secondary analysis categorized fear-related themes that were mentioned by users. Identifying and addressing patients' fear has potential to improve communication and therapeutic outcome. For example, questions regarding surgery were typically asked after the option was mentioned by a physician. This insight should encourage physicians to devote extra time explaining the possible implications of surgery, should they consider it as an option.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1915-1922
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Pain
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2020


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