Can meta-data tell us more about healthcare?

Who knows what’s going on in healthcare? Who knows what conditions and disorders are causing people problems? Who knows what’s happening in medical tourism?
Google! Google is a treasure chest of information about how people are behaving and what issues are concerning them. Google logs the online activity and search behaviour of hundreds of millions of users. It knows what you and I do on the web everyday. It knows where we are, most of the time. And from the data that Google collects, it can draw conclusions. And so can you.
A recent example of this in the healthcare sector is Google Flu Trends Google has realised that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity. Google Flu Trends uses aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity in a US state up to two weeks faster than the federal centres for disease control and prevention.
Outside of healthcare, a UK web intelligence company was able to predict the winner of a TV talent show, based on the online activities of people who were watching the show and researching the contestants online.
So what does Google know about medical tourism….? Probably quite a lot more than most people in the business.
Let’s take a simple example. Suppose I want to know which are the most popular countries for cosmetic surgery for UK patients who travel for treatment.
I can analyse the search activity of UK internet users by looking at the relative number of searches for cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery which also incorporate location or country names. I then combine all of this data to create a search volume of country related cosmetic surgery related phrases. For each country, I can then calculate a share of the total volume of searches. And we get the table on the right.
Interesting stuff…. Now, it doesn’t tell me which countries people are actually going to (in the same way that Google Flu Trends doesn’t actually tell you that people have flu), but I’m willing to bet that it’s not a bad indicator. And it’s probably a far better indicator than the top of the head data that many “experts” toss around.
So, if your job is about marketing medical tourism, you need to consult the new medical tourism guru – Google Inc.

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As Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) and a Healthcare Consultant for LaingBuisson, Keith Pollard is one of Europe’s leading experts on private healthcare, medical tourism and cross border healthcare, providing consultancy and research services, and attending and contributing to major conferences across the world on the subject. He has been involved in private healthcare, medical travel and cross border healthcare since the 1990s. His career has embraced the management of private hospitals in the UK, research and feasibility studies for healthcare ventures, the marketing and business development aspects of healthcare and medical travel and publishing, research and consultancy on cross border healthcare.