The state of mind of health care professionals in light of the COVID-19 pandemic: Text analysis study of twitter discourses

Aviad Elyashar, Ilia Plochotnikov, Idan Chaim Cohen, Rami Puzis, Odeya Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected populations worldwide, with extreme health, economic, social, and political implications. Health care professionals (HCPs) are at the core of pandemic response and are among the most crucial factors in maintaining coping capacities. Yet, they are also vulnerable to mental health effects caused by managing a long-lasting emergency with a lack of resources and under complicated personal concerns. However, there are a lack of longitudinal studies that investigate the HCP population. Objective: The aim of this study was to analyze the state of mind of HCPs as expressed in online discussions published on Twitter in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, from the onset of the pandemic until the end of 2020. Methods: The population for this study was selected from followers of a few hundred Twitter accounts of health care organizations and common HCP points of interest. We used active learning, a process that iteratively uses machine learning and manual data labeling, to select the large-scale population of Twitter accounts maintained by English-speaking HCPs, focusing on individuals rather than official organizations. We analyzed the topics and emotions in their discourses during 2020. The topic distributions were obtained using the latent Dirichlet allocation algorithm. We defined a measure of topic cohesion and described the most cohesive topics. The emotions expressed in tweets during 2020 were compared to those in 2019. Finally, the emotion intensities were cross-correlated with the pandemic waves to explore possible associations between the pandemic development and emotional response. Results: We analyzed the timelines of 53,063 Twitter profiles, 90% of which were maintained by individual HCPs. Professional topics accounted for 44.5% of tweets by HCPs from January 1, 2019, to December 6, 2020. Events such as the pandemic waves, US elections, or the George Floyd case affected the HCPs' discourse. The levels of joy and sadness exceeded their minimal and maximal values from 2019, respectively, 80% of the time (P=.001). Most interestingly, fear preceded the pandemic waves, in terms of the differences in confirmed cases, by 2 weeks with a Spearman correlation coefficient of ρ(47 pairs)=0.340 (P=.03). Conclusions: Analyses of longitudinal data over the year 2020 revealed that a large fraction of HCP discourse is directly related to professional content, including the increase in the volume of discussions following the pandemic waves. The changes in emotional patterns (ie, decrease in joy and increase in sadness, fear, and disgust) during the year 2020 may indicate the utmost importance in providing emotional support for HCPs to prevent fatigue, burnout, and mental health disorders during the postpandemic period. The increase in fear 2 weeks in advance of pandemic waves indicates that HCPs are in a position, and with adequate qualifications, to anticipate pandemic development, and could serve as a bottom-up pathway for expressing morbidity and clinical situations to health agencies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere30217
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Volume23
Issue number10
Early online date23 Jul 2021
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Active learning
  • COVID-19
  • Emotion analysis
  • Health care professionals
  • Machine learning
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Social media
  • Topic analysis
  • Twitter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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