Use of online information in musculoskeletal conditions - an analysis of Google Trends data
Background: The use of online searches to provide disease information appears to be proliferating, but we have little knowledge of its use or content for musculoskeletal conditions.
Aims: We aimed to investigate the yearly online public interest for gout, low back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Methods: We analysed data on global online searches in Google Trends for the above-mentioned conditions, between 2004 and 2020. The search volumes for each condition (relative to all searches conducted worldwide in that period), the top related queries, and topics were downloaded and summarised. The Annual Percent Change (APC) of the online interest for each condition was calculated. The topics and queries related to each condition were classified using thematic approach analysis and annual change in interest for each theme was calculated.
Results: There was a rise in the relative volume of online searches for low back pain (APC 7.4; 95% CI 7.1-7.7), neck pain (APC 7.2; 95%CI 6.9-7.5), gout (APC 4.2; 95%CI 3.3-5.0), osteoarthritis (APC 4.0; 95%CI 3.5-4.5), and rheumatoid arthritis (APC 2.5; 95%CI 2.2-2.9) between 2008 and 2020. The interest for the cause and symptoms of all conditions, except gout, significantly increased over time, whilst the interest in topics related to treatment decreased. There seemed to be no interest in the prevention of the conditions.
Conclusions: The global online interest in musculoskeletal conditions increased between 2008 and 2020. We observed an increase in interest for causes and symptoms of musculoskeletal conditions, but very limited interest in their treatment and prevention.