Healthcare professionals are experiencing decreased joy, increased sadness, fear and disgust over the course of the 18-month COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

Their conclusion was drawn from analyzing more than 53,000 Twitter posts (tweets) from healthcare professionals.

The researchers found that levels of joy and sadness exceeded their minimal and maximal values in the last year, respectively, 80 percent of the time.

Fear preceded the various pandemic waves by a full week. That indicates that many healthcare professionals “are in a position and with adequate qualification to anticipate the pandemic development,” the researchers write.

An algorithm revealed that the most significant topics that healthcare professionals tweeted about during the pandemic were COVID-19 information, public health and social values, medical studies, as well as daily life and food.

The study was conducted using a process called “active learning,” which employs machine learning and manual data labeling.

The emotions expressed in the healthcare workers’ tweets in 2020 were compared with similar tweets in 2019. The emotion intensities were then cross correlated with the pandemic waves to identify causal relationships.

The study, funded by the BGU Coronavirus Taskforce and an Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology Coronavirus research grant, indicates that data-driven approaches like this for analyzing social media networks can be helpful in exploring professional health insights during routine clinical situations and during emergencies, such as COVID.

The study is  available online as a preprint and will be published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The study was led by Rami Puzis of BGU’s Software and Information System Engineering Department and Odeya Cohen of the Department of Nursing. The team also included Aviad Elyashar and Ilia Plochotnikov of BGU’s Software and Information System Engineering; and Idan-Chaim Cohen of BGU’s School of Public Health.

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