Google’s new ‘Searching for Health’ could become powerful public health tool
Google has introduced a new tool that analyses public interest in health issues and its link to patterns of disease in the community.
The Searching for Health site, developed by Google News Lab, creates visual representations of online searches related to health versus actual disease occurrence across US counties.
The tool deals with some of the biggest health issues of the 21st century, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression, and diabetes.
The site poses interesting questions about public awareness and lifestyle and its relation to the number of people affected by specific conditions.
For example, the number of online searches relating to cancer show a ‘positive correlation’ to the actual numbers of breast, colon and lung cancer (high interest matches high mortality).
By contrast diabetes and obesity show a negative correlation (high interest, low prevalence). In other words, this suggests individuals in more health conscious areas are searching online for information about these diseases – behaviour which seems to be linked to them not developing the conditions.
Google has commented on how it thinks the data should be used, but its use in informing public health campaigns is obvious. It could allow awareness efforts for specific diseases in areas with a low interest but high mortality or prevalence. Diabetes and obesity are perfect examples of this, based on the site’s own data.
Google is tapping into the powerful dataset provided by search engine, which has become the first port of call for people seeking information on health.
In August, the company introduced a tool that displays a diagnostic questionnaire for depression if a person enters a depression-related search term. The idea is to encourage people with depression to self-diagnose and seek help for their condition.
It is also partners with Mayo Clinic to ensure the health information it provides through its search engine is as accurate as possible. This includes the major update it made last year to the amount of data it provides, including symptoms and treatments.
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