Transparency Needed To Use Google Trends in Health Research
October 28, 2014 in News
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.
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).