Google is the top search engine in the world with their slogan being “see what the world is searching.” Google continues to look for innovative ways to help users find exactly what they need, and with Google Trends, the possibilities seem endless.
Google Trends is a digital data collection tool that allows users – especially professionals – to see trends in certain industries. For example, a healthcare lawyer may want to focus her practice on HIPAA privacy and security compliance. When searching Google Trends, she may discover the search trends interesting as the report will reveal the number of clicks within a year and within a particular location in the world.
Another example would be that of someone tracking healthcare issues such as the flu. Google Flu Trends was created as a software program that records online health care-seeking behavior. The model has become a valuable tool for those in the healthcare industry. They get real-time information with the click of a button. Plus, Google Flu Trends can forecast upcoming flu epidemics, helping health care professionals to advise and care for potential patients well in advance.
Google calculates the frequency of flu outbreaks and compares it to the last six years. A chart of Google search engine words – those terms that suffers type in when they show flu-like symptoms – is compiled. This data is gathered, and has received acceptance from healthcare professionals and recreational Google users.
In addition, the results tend to match national clinic data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which is published approximately one week after those from Google Trends.
The CDC’s Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network keeps track of flu-like symptoms from 3,000 clinics nationwide. They are considered the authority in reporting the following:
• Reported symptoms
• Actual flu outbreaks
• Hospitals with confirmed flu patients
• Labs examining the viral samples
• Geographic spread of the viral strains
• Mortality rates
There have been reported discrepancies between Google Flu Trends and the CDC’s findings. However, it is important to note that Google Flu Trends only reports symptoms. While an increase in flu-like symptoms can be identified, it is difficult to be certain whether it really is the influenza virus – like H1N1 and H3N2 – or not. Plus, the CDC has more subjective information from doctors, hospitals and health care clinics. They have seen the patients and are able to determine the cause of the symptoms. The search engine company recognizes that their program is still in its early stages and much more development is needed. Google is eager to collect the most accurate information relating to health care.
The CDC is also working to update their systems, hoping to collect more accurate statistics in a less intrusive way for health care professionals and office administration. The feed would become more electronic, and therefore, more instantaneous. However, the CDC intends to keep the personal connection they have with hospitals and clinics, guaranteeing the submission of precise information.