Facebook users change language before hospital visit: Study

Washington, Mar 13 (PTI) The language people use on social networking site Facebook subtly changes before they make a visit to the hospital, according to researcher, including one of Indian origin.

The researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Stony Brook University in the US compared patients' Facebook posts to their medical records.

They showed that a shift to more formal language and descriptions of physical pain, among other changes, reliably preceded hospital visits.

The study, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, provides more evidence that social media is often an unseen signal of medical distress and could potentially be used to trigger health care interventions.

'The better we understand the context in which people are seeking care, the better they can be attended to,' said lead author Sharath Chandra Guntuku, a research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

'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 said.

The researchers recruited 2,915 patients at an urban hospital who consented to share 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.

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 or use internet slang, and informal language.

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, the researchers said.

Study author H Andrew Schwartz, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University, said that the decrease in informal language 'seems to go hand-in-hand' with an increase in anxiety-related language.

'We seem to become more grave and serious when we are unwell,' Guntuku said.

'And looking beyond the family mentions data, it's possible that, when health is down, the need for belonging increases and shows up in what one posts on social media,' he said.

When the researchers looked more closely at the context of some posts, they noticed there might be some clues to patients' health behaviours related directly to their hospital visit. PTI SAR SAR