Psychiatry is nearly entirely reliant on patient self-reporting, and there are few objective and reliable tests or sources of collateral information available to help diagnostic and assessment procedures. Technology offers opportunities to collect objective digital data to complement patient experience and facilitate more informed treatment decisions.
We aimed to develop computational algorithms based on internet search activity designed to support diagnostic procedures and relapse identification in individuals with schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
We extracted 32,733 time-stamped search queries across 42 participants with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and 74 healthy volunteers between the ages of 15 and 35 (mean 24.4 years, 44.0% male), and built machine-learning diagnostic and relapse classifiers utilizing the timing, frequency, and content of online search activity.
Classifiers predicted a diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorders with an area under the curve value of 0.74 and predicted a psychotic relapse in individuals with schizophrenia spectrum disorders with an area under the curve of 0.71. Compared with healthy participants, those with schizophrenia spectrum disorders made fewer searches and their searches consisted of fewer words. Prior to a relapse hospitalization, participants with schizophrenia spectrum disorders were more likely to use words related to hearing, perception, and anger, and were less likely to use words related to health.
Online search activity holds promise for gathering objective and easily accessed indicators of psychiatric symptoms. Utilizing search activity as collateral behavioral health information would represent a major advancement in efforts to capitalize on objective digital data to improve mental health monitoring.
©Michael Leo Birnbaum, Prathamesh “Param” Kulkarni, Anna Van Meter, Victor Chen, Asra F Rizvi, Elizabeth Arenare, Munmun De Choudhury, John M Kane. Originally published in JMIR Mental Health (http://mental.jmir.org), 01.09.2020.