Understanding Health through Google Searches

November 21, 2017

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“Searching for Health” is a collaboration between the Google News Lab, Alberto Cairo, and Schema Design.


Schema is a design firm for the information age. We design for impact, focusing on information platforms that scale and evolve with organizations.


We are experts in the areas of interaction design, visual design, and data visualization, and approach every project from a human-centered perspective. We work across a broad spectrum of media, from web and mobile applications to publications and media installations.


Our tools are data and information. Our mission is the creation of knowledge.




Google News Lab helps journalists and researchers use Google search data for data-driven storytelling. Schema collaborated with Google News Lab and Alberto Cairo to create “Searching for Health”, a visualization that tracks the top searches for common health issues in the United States, from Cancer to Diabetes, and compares them with the actual location of occurrences for those same health conditions. By using data from both Google Trends API and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the visualization allows the reader to find potential geographic relationships between those who search and the actual prevalence of health conditions across the country.




Our collaboration started by thinking about how we might address the issue of healthcare through the lens of Google search data. Initially we proposed a comparison between search interest around health issues, and who would benefit (or not) from the American Health Care Act, using data provided by the Kaiser Foundation. After pursuing that direction for a tumultuous few months in mid-2017, we decided to pivot and instead focus on health condition occurrences, ultimately a more insightful and meaningful comparison given the constantly changing focus of the AHCA. With this new focus, we hand-selected data on the top health conditions in the US from the CDC’s Community Health Status Indicators, a comprehensive dataset containing key health indicators for each of the 3,141 United States counties.




Since the change of leadership in the White House in 2017, health has been a hot button political issue, as well as a trending topic, with more people searching about health issues than ever before. Are people who search more for health issues healthier than those who don’t? “Searching for Health” aims to represent the relationship between awareness of health risks, and actually being healthier. Viewers can use the website to gain insight on the level of interest of the the top searches for health conditions in the US and the magnitude of those affected by them. The data is updated regularly to showcase ongoing search activity.



The Visualisation Tool




How does search interest for top health issues change over time? From 2004–2017, the data shows that search interest gradually increased over the past few years. Certain regions show a more significant increase in search interest than others. The increase in search activity is greatest in the Midwest and Northeast, while the changes are noticeably less dramatic in California, Texas, and Idaho. Are people generally becoming more aware of health conditions and health risks?



How do searches on health issues compare to actual occurrences of those same health risks? Are regions with greater awareness also healthier? And do “healthier” regions tend not to worry as much? To answer these questions, we compared regional search interest with reported occurrences of health conditions.



Comparing the maps, we can see the greatest geographic relationship between search interest and actual occurrences for Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke, and Depression. Are people more aware of certain health topics like Cancer, Stroke, Depression in certain regions, because those conditions are a top concern there?



The relationship between low search interest and low occurrences is less obvious. The most noticeable exist among the more grievous conditions such as Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke. Do people worry less about serious conditions if they aren’t exposed to them as much?



Certain topics like Obesity and Diabetes have an inverse relationship—high search interest, but fewer occurrences of related health conditions. These conditions appear to be top-of-mind, despite little evidence of actual occurrences. Does higher awareness sometimes lead to fewer actual occurrences for certain health conditions?



If higher awareness means fewer occurrences of health conditions, might lower interest be associated with more occurrences? This appears to be largely true for Diabetes and Obesity.



Preventable and Digestive Diseases show little to no relationship.



The search interest data was collected using the Google Trends API. The health conditions were hand-selected from the Community Health Status Indicators (CHSI) which provides key indicators for local communities in the United States. The CHSI dataset includes more than 200 measures for each of the 3,141 United States counties. More information about the CHSI can be found on healthdata.gov. Photo credit: Abigail Keenan.


Source : https://www.schemadesign.com/work/searching-for-health

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