Researchers at the George Washington University found that non-generic queries in the online tool Google Trends may provide better insights into people’s health information-seeking behaviour.
The study was published in the journal EurekAlert!
Google Trends analyses the popularity of top Google queries geographically and longitudinally.
Recently, Google has made Google Trends a tool to surveil and study the impact of Covid-19 around the world.
Author King John Pascual, a third-year MD student at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) said: “What’s interesting about Google Trends is that it is a free platform that allows researchers like me to assess information-seeking behaviour from a big data perspective.”
“Just like with any big-data platform, if you have the right research questions, it can be a powerful epidemiological tool,” he added.
The study, conducted by Pascual and his mentor Ali Pourmand, MD, MPH, professor of emergency medicine at SMHS, utilized Google Trends to examine the extent of the public’s perceived exposure to Covid-19.
Out of the five queries analysed, two that signal perceived exposure to the virus: “How do I get tested for coronavirus?” or “Do I have coronavirus?”
They also analysed two based on the generic queries such as “What is coronavirus?” or “How is coronavirus spread?” that does not necessarily reflect perceived exposure to the virus.
The researchers wrote in their study that this implies how analysing specific phrases, in lieu of those borne out by general interest, may yield more meaningful data about perceived exposure to a communicable disease on a population level.
“Early access to population health data is crucial and potentially lifesaving. Digital tools such as Google Trends may help bridge the gap in knowledge and transparency,” said Pascual.