Healthcare professionals could more effectively monitor type 2 diabetes prevalence using our Google searches, research suggests.
A new study from the University of Warwick proposes that keywords entered into search engines, which are related to diabetes symptoms and risk factors, could indicate type 2 diabetes development across the UK.
Lead author Nataliya Tkachenko, from the University’s Department of Computer Science, says these keywords, which could also be posted on social media, could provide real-time information on patients’ symptoms and underlying conditions.
She said: “Self-diagnosing behaviours online could be effectively leveraged for real-time health monitoring tools, with the biggest potential to be anticipated for chronic and non-communicable diseases.
“Unlike quickly spreading diseases (e.g., flues), such slowly developing conditions are largely dependent on the personal and community lifestyles, the factors, which are currently unaccounted for in the screening models. Human online behaviours could help to bridge the gap between real-world human health landscape and synthetic, predominantly bio-centric monitoring tools.”
The researchers examined two principal UK surveillance models for diabetes risk factors, such as obesity, lifestyle habits (including smoking and excessive alcohol consumption) and family history of diabetes.
They then analysed Google Trends data from searches across Central London, comparing weekly fluctuation rates of keywords and searches linked to diabetes risk factors. These searches included, “how to lose weight” and “how to quit smoking”.
“Our results demonstrate that Google Trends can detect early signs of diabetes by monitoring combinations of keywords, associated with searches for hypertension treatment and poor living conditions,” the authors wrote.
“Combined search semantics, related to obesity, how to quit smoking and improve living conditions (deprivation) can be also employed, however, may lead to less accurate results.”
Google UK reported in 2015 that 21.8 per cent of Britons self-diagnosed illnesses using the internet, without consulting family or doctors. While, on the face of it, this increases the risk of misdiagnoses, researchers believe search engine traces can be exploited by healthcare professionals to generate new screening programs.
The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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