Transparency Needed To Use Google Trends in Health Research

October 28, 2014 in News

Google Trends holds promise as a health research tool, but documentation and methodology needs to be more transparent, according to a study published in PLOS ONE, FierceHealthIT reports.

Study Details

For the study, researchers from Yale-New Haven Hospital identified health-related studies and literature that used Google Trends as a monitoring tool (Dvorak, FierceHealthIT, 10/27). The studies were categorized into four topics:

  • Infectious disease;
  • General population behavior;
  • Mental health and substance misuse; and
  • Other non-communicable diseases.

The researchers evaluated the studies’ methodology and validation of the online tool.

Study Findings

According to the study, Google Trends is being used in health research in several ways for a variety of topics (Nuti et al., PLOS ONE, 10/22).

For example, of the examined studies:

  • 39% used Google Trends for description;
  • 34% used it for surveillance; and
  • 27% used it for casual inference.

However, the researchers noted that the studies lacked sufficient documentation of search methodologies and often did not include search rationales (FierceHealthIT, 10/27). They said that including such documentation would allow other researchers to evaluate the consistency and reliability of Google Trends as a research tool. Of the studies reviewed, the authors noted just 7% provided clear documentation necessary to be reproduced (PLOS ONE, 10/22).

They concluded, “Further work is needed to substantiate the reliability and real world applicability of Google Trends as a tool to monitor health-related phenomena” (FierceHealthIT, 10/27).

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