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Patient language assessed in UW-Madison talk

December 14, 2010

The expression of illness in the digital age, and the impact of patient language on health information systems, will be explored by Catherine Arnott Smith at a Holtz Center brownbag on Thursday, Dec. 16 in 8108 Social Science.

In “Language Like Mine: Patient Communication as Folksonomy,” Smith, of the UW–Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies, will discuss how healthcare systems have considered patients’ own words. The talk will be held from noon-1:30 p.m.

“In, which has been described as a cross between a clinical trial group and a dating site, patients find ‘patients like them’ by using tags they create and maintain as part of their ongoing profile,” Smith says.

The research, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, investigates the resemblance between tags on the online forum and the language used by patients to describe their symptoms to clinicians.

“Symptom expression is one area where, for very good reasons, the patient is and ought to be in complete control of the conversation,” Smith says. “If we can establish that there is good consonance between the online and the offline communities, it means that online patients can be a good source of data about what symptoms are experienced.”

–Sally Younger