Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Google Trends: A new frontier for monitoring population health?

London School of Hygiene: Google dominates the market for internet search engines and is so pervasive that the term “to Google” has entered everyday use in a way that none of its competitors has. In Europe it isused in 85% of internet searches while in the US, it accounts for 65%. In 2012, Google handled approximately 1.2 trillion searches globally, or 3.3 billion searches per day. In an era where web searches and transactions are recorded instantaneously, this activity generates a massive volume of data whose uses are often unexpected and virtually limitless. While individuals search for many things online, such as consumer goods and services, there is also significant search activity related to health concerns. In fact, approximately 3% to 5% of worldwide search traffic involves some type of health counselling. Population health researchers are also starting to take note of the potential of these data. Google search engine queries have now been used as a source of data for population health research, from studying influenza outbreaks to monitoring interest in e-cigarettes. Yet, the use of Google Trends, the dataset that collects and organises such queries, is still in its infancy for public health research. It is imperative that population health researchers are aware of such non-traditional tools to answer pressing research questions.