Display Settings:


Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
J Biomed Inform. 2013 Dec;46(6):998-1005. doi: 10.1016/j.jbi.2013.08.011. Epub 2013 Sep 8.

Text classification for assisting moderators in online health communities.

Author information

  • 1Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, Michigan State University, 404 Wilson Rd, Rm 409, East Lansing, MI 48864, USA. Electronic address: jinahuh@msu.edu.



Patients increasingly visit online health communities to get help on managing health. The large scale of these online communities makes it impossible for the moderators to engage in all conversations; yet, some conversations need their expertise. Our work explores low-cost text classification methods to this new domain of determining whether a thread in an online health forum needs moderators' help.


We employed a binary classifier on WebMD's online diabetes community data. To train the classifier, we considered three feature types: (1) word unigram, (2) sentiment analysis features, and (3) thread length. We applied feature selection methods based on χ² statistics and under sampling to account for unbalanced data. We then performed a qualitative error analysis to investigate the appropriateness of the gold standard.


Using sentiment analysis features, feature selection methods, and balanced training data increased the AUC value up to 0.75 and the F1-score up to 0.54 compared to the baseline of using word unigrams with no feature selection methods on unbalanced data (0.65 AUC and 0.40 F1-score). The error analysis uncovered additional reasons for why moderators respond to patients' posts.


We showed how feature selection methods and balanced training data can improve the overall classification performance. We present implications of weighing precision versus recall for assisting moderators of online health communities. Our error analysis uncovered social, legal, and ethical issues around addressing community members' needs. We also note challenges in producing a gold standard, and discuss potential solutions for addressing these challenges.


Social media environments provide popular venues in which patients gain health-related information. Our work contributes to understanding scalable solutions for providing moderators' expertise in these large-scale, social media environments.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Consumer health; Health information seeking; Human–computer interaction; Online health communities; Text mining

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
[Available on 2014/12/1]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Elsevier Science
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk