Nav: Home

Facebook language changes before an emergency hospital visit

March 12, 2020

STONY BROOK, NY, March 12, 2020 - A new study published in Scientific Reports reveals that the language people use on Facebook subtly changes before they make a visit to the emergency department (ED). A team of researchers in part led by H. Andrew Schwartz, PhD, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stony Brook University along with Sharath Chandra Guntuku, PhD, a research scientist in Penn Medicine's Center for Digital Health, compared patients' Facebook posts to their medical records, which showed that a shift to more formal language and/or descriptions of physical pain, among other changes, reliably preceded hospital visits. The study provides more evidence that social media is often an unseen signal of medical distress and could be used to better understand the contexts in which patients seek care, such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The study's researchers recruited 2,915 patients at an urban hospital who consented to sharing their Facebook posts and electronic health records (EHRs). Of those patients, 419 had a recent emergency department (ED) visit, ranging from chest pain to pregnancy-related issues. Posts from as early as two-and-a-half months before the date of the patients' ED visit were analyzed using a machine learning model that processed their language to find changes over time.

As patients got closer to their eventual ED visit, the researchers found that Facebook posts increasingly discussed family and health more. They also used more anxious, worrisome, and depressed language and less informal language such as "lol" "?" or swearing.

"The decrease in informal language seems to go hand-in-hand with an increase in anxiety-related language," said Schwartz, who collaborated with the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health, part of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "While it is hard to say right now if this would be the same result across multiple social media platforms, people live a lot of their lives online and Facebook is that dominant platform right now."

"The better we understand the context in which people are seeking care, the better they can be attended to," said lead author Guntuku. "While this research is in a very early stage, it could potentially be used to both identify at-risk patients for immediate follow-up or facilitate more proactive messaging for patients reporting doubts about what to do before a specific procedure." Guntuku and Schwartz designed and conducted the analyses along with Stony Brook University graduate student, Adarsh Kashyap, MS CS.

Ultimately, it was found that most patients underwent a significant change in language before they went to the ED. Before their visit, patients were less likely to post about leisure (not using words like "play," "fun," and "nap") or use internet slang and informal language (such as using "u" instead of "you").

When the researchers looked more closely at the context of some posts, they noticed there might be some clues to patients' health behaviors related directly to their hospital visit. One post, for example, talked about the patient eating a cheeseburger and fries less than a month before they were admitted for chest pain related to having heart failure. Another patient confirmed that they were following directions from their care team, posting about fasting 24 hours before they had a scheduled surgery.

"How does life affect personal decisions to seek care? How does care affect life? These are the things I would hope that we could fully describe, how people's everyday lives intermix with health care," Schwartz added.

The study primarily looked at the change in language before a hospital visit, but a previous study involving Schwartz and the paper's senior author, Raina Merchant, MD, the director of the Center for Digital Health, showed that a person's depression could be predicted through the language of Facebook posts as far ahead as three months before official diagnosis.

Guntuku said that there is tremendous potential in user generated content (on Facebook, Twitter, and now on smartphones) to study the behaviors and mental states that lead to a healthcare visit. "Any research in this domain must give patient privacy and agency utmost priority and transparency about where, how and by whom these digital markers are being used to understand health is critical," he added.

The researchers plan to study broader populations in subsequent studies in an attempt to understand what actionable and interpretable insights can be provided to patients who opted to share their data.
-end-


Stony Brook University

Related Social Media Articles:

COVID-19: Social media users more likely to believe false information
A new study led by researchers at McGill University finds that people who get their news from social media are more likely to have misperceptions about COVID-19.
Stemming the spread of misinformation on social media
New research reported in the journal Psychological Science finds that priming people to think about accuracy could make them more discerning in what they subsequently share on social media.
Social media and radiology -- The good, the bad, and the ugly
Radiologists examine social media and report #SoMe can be useful in education, research, mentoring and career development.
Looking for better customer engagement value? Be more strategic on social media
According to a new study from the University of Vaasa and University of Cyprus, the mere use of social media alone does not generate customer value, but rather, the connections and interactions between the firm and its customers -- as well as among customers themselves -- can be used strategically for resource transformation and exchanges between the interacting parties.
Exploring the use of 'stretchable' words in social media
An investigation of Twitter messages reveals new insights and tools for studying how people use stretched words, such as 'duuuuude,' 'heyyyyy,' or 'noooooooo.' Tyler Gray and colleagues at the University of Vermont in Burlington present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on May 27, 2020.
How social media platforms can contribute to dehumanizing people
A recent analysis of discourse on Facebook highlights how social media can be used to dehumanize entire groups of people.
Social media influencers could encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines
Public health bodies should consider incentivizing social media influencers to encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines, say researchers.
Social grooming factors influencing social media civility on COVID-19
A new study analyzing tweets about COVID-19 found that users with larger social networks tend to use fewer uncivil remarks when they have more positive responses from others.
Using social media to understand the vaccine debate in China
Vaccine acceptance is a crucial public health issue, which has been exacerbated by the use of social media to spread content expressing vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccine misinformation and social media
People who rely on social media for information were more likely to be misinformed about vaccines than those who rely on traditional media, according to a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
More Social Media News and Social Media Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.