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The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on digital health-seeking behavior: big data interrupted time-series analysis of Google trends

van Kessel, Robin, Kyriopoulos, Ilias, Wong, Brian Li Han and Mossialos, Elias (2023) The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on digital health-seeking behavior: big data interrupted time-series analysis of Google trends. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 25. ISSN 1438-8871

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Identification Number: 10.2196/42401


BACKGROUND: Due to the emergency responses early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of digital health in health care increased abruptly. However, it remains unclear whether this introduction was sustained in the long term, especially with patients being able to decide between digital and traditional health services once the latter regained their functionality throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. OBJECTIVE: We aim to understand how the public interest in digital health changed as proxy for digital health-seeking behavior and to what extent this change was sustainable over time. METHODS: We used an interrupted time-series analysis of Google Trends data with break points on March 11, 2020 (declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organization), and December 20, 2020 (the announcement of the first COVID-19 vaccines). Nationally representative time-series data from February 2019 to August 2021 were extracted from Google Trends for 6 countries with English as their dominant language: Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland. We measured the changes in relative search volumes of the keywords online doctor, telehealth, online health, telemedicine, and health app. In doing so, we capture the prepandemic trend, the immediate change due to the announcement of COVID-19 being a pandemic, and the gradual change after the announcement. RESULTS: Digital health search volumes immediately increased in all countries under study after the announcement of COVID-19 being a pandemic. There was some variation in what keywords were used per country. However, searches declined after this immediate spike, sometimes reverting to prepandemic levels. The announcement of COVID-19 vaccines did not consistently impact digital health search volumes in the countries under study. The exception is the search volume of health app, which was observed as either being stable or gradually increasing during the pandemic. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that the increased public interest in digital health associated with the pandemic did not sustain, alluding to remaining structural barriers. Further building of digital health capacity and developing robust digital health governance frameworks remain crucial to facilitating sustainable digital health transformation.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Authors
Divisions: LSE Health
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2023 16:42
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2023 00:16

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