What people say on Facebook before hospital visit

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San Francisco, March 13 (IANS) Before making an emergency hospital visit, the language in Facebook user’s posts changes considerably and they tend to invoke family and health more often, says a study.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, 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 nearly 3,000 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 analysed 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 one of the researchers H. Andrew Schwartz, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stony Brook University in New York.
“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,” Schwartz said.
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 behavior related directly to their hospital visit.
The study primarily looked at the change in language before a hospital visit, but a previous study showed that a person’s depression could be predicted through the language of Facebook posts as far ahead as three months before official diagnosis.

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