The language in Facebook’s publications can help identify conditions such as diabetes, anxiety, depression and psychosis in patients, according to a study published in PLOS ONE. The results indicate that the language in these publications could be an indicator of the aforementioned diseases and with the consent of the patient, could be analyzed as physical symptoms.
“This work is incipient but our hope is that the information obtained from these publications can be used to better inform patients and those responsible for the health field” – explains lead author Raina Merchant. “Because social media posts often deal with choices and lifestyle experiences, this information could provide additional data on disease control.”
Using an automated data collection technique, the Merchant team analyzed the complete history of Facebook posts of nearly 1,000 patients who agreed to give their data from electronic medical records and their Facebook profiles. Then, the authors built three models to analyze the predictive power for patients: a model that only analyzes Facebook’s publications, another that used demographic data such as age and sex, and the last one that combined the two.
When analyzing 21 different conditions, the researchers found that all of them were predictable using only Facebook. In fact, 10 of the conditions were predicted better by using Facebook data instead of demographic information.
“Our digital language – concludes Merchant – captures important aspects of our lives that are probably very different from what is obtained through traditional medical data. Many studies have shown a link between language patterns and specific diseases, such as predictive language for depression or language that provides information about whether a person is living with cancer. However, when analyzing many medical conditions, we can see how the conditions develop, relate to each other, which may allow new applications of artificial intelligence for medicine. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight and needs help to understand their food choices and exercise regimens, Having a doctor check your social media record could give you a better understanding of your usual patterns to help improve them. The challenge of this new technique is that there is a lot of information and we are not able to interpret it or to make clinical decisions based on them “.