Feature engineering for sentiment analysis in e-health forums


Introduction Exploiting information in health-related social media services is of great interest for patients, researchers and medical companies. The challenge is, however, to provide easy, quick and relevant access to the vast amount of information that is available. One step towards facilitating information access to online health data is opinion mining. Even though the classification of patient opinions into positive and negative has been previously tackled, most works make use of machine learning methods and bags of words. Our first contribution is an extensive evaluation of different features, including lexical, syntactic, semantic, network-based, sentiment-based and word embeddings features to represent patient-authored texts for polarity classification. The second contribution of this work is the study of polar facts (i.e. objective information with polar connotations). Traditionally, the presence of polar facts has been neglected and research in polarity classification has been bounded to opinionated texts. We demonstrate the existence and importance of polar facts for the polarity classification of health information. Material and methods We annotate a set of more than 3500 posts to online health forums of breast cancer, crohn and different allergies, respectively. Each sentence in a post is manually labeled as “experience”, “fact” or “opinion”, and as “positive”, “negative” and “neutral”. Using this data, we train different machine learning algorithms and compare traditional bags of words representations with word embeddings in combination with lexical, syntactic, semantic, network-based and emotional properties of texts to automatically classify patient-authored contents into positive, negative and neutral. Beside, we experiment with a combination of textual and semantic representations by generating concept embeddings using the UMLS Metathesaurus. Results We reach two main results: first, we find that it is possible to predict polarity of patient-authored contents with a very high accuracy (≈ 70 percent) using word embeddings, and that this considerably outperforms more traditional representations like bags of words; and second, when dealing with medical information, negative and positive facts (i.e. objective information) are nearly as frequent as negative and positive opinions and experiences (i.e. subjective information), and their importance for polarity classification is crucial.