What can Google Trends tell us about medical tourism in 2020?

Google has reported that 5% of all searches are healthcare related. Google Trends, an online application that analyses the popularity of search queries in Google Search across various regions and languages, enables us to compare the search volume of different queries over time. So, what can it tell us about medical tourism?

I’ve looked at Google Trends data over the last five years to see what it might tell us about medical tourism. Bear in mind that the data reflects all searches for the term, which may include patients wanting to know about destinations and treatment, but also journalists, researchers, governments and business people in the sector looking for information. We’re also looking at a relatively small sample in terms of the number of searches undertaken.

A decline in popularity?

Not surprisingly, given the impact of COVID-19, there’s been a recent decline in interest in medical tourism. By country, searchers in the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Singapore have been the most active. Dubai stands out as showing the highest level of interest of any subregion or city. In recent months, Mauritius has made an appearance at the top of the rankings. Presumably, someone’s planning a medical tourism initiative for Mauritius?

Google Trends uses a number from 1 to 100 to reflect search interest relative to the highest level over a period. A value of 100 represents the peak popularity for a term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. The latest figure for “medical tourism” is 37, compared to the five year peak of 100 in February 2018.

Google Trends: Search interest over last 12 months.

Blue: ‘medical tourism’ search. Red: ‘medical travel’ search.

We can go back as far as 2004 on Google Trends and look at the longer term. Searches for “medical tourism” grew steadily from 2004 through to 2009. Since 2009 however, it’s been downhill all the way with search frequency at around 25% of the volumes seen in 2009.

Which term?

Various terms are used to describe the sector. The most popular are “medical tourism”, “medical travel” and “health tourism”. Use of “medical tourism” is most frequent, although the gap in usage between “medical tourism” and “medical travel” has closed over the last few years with “medical travel” being used more frequently than “medical tourism” in some recent months. “Health tourism” attracts far less searches.

There are also regional variations in the terms that people use. Over the last twelve months, searches for “medical travel” far exceeded those for “medical tourism” in the USA and Canada. Whereas in Eastern Europe and the Gulf, “medical tourism” searches were far more frequent.

What was trending in 2020?

Google Trends also shows which terms have increased in frequency over time. In 2020, the fastest trending term was of course… Coronavirus. Joe Biden, Kim Jong Un and Boris Johnson were the fastest trending personalities. In the UK and in France, the fastest growing “How to” was “How to make a face mask/Comment faire un masque?” In the USA, it was “How to make hand sanitizer?” In Germany, the fastest trending “Why” question was “Warum wurden Kelloggs Cornflakes erfunden?” (Why were Kellogg’s cornflakes invented?). I’ve no idea what that says about the Germans’ interest in breakfast cereals. I’ll ask Claudia Mika from Temos International!

What about healthcare terms?

Google has reported that 5% of all searches are healthcare related. Searches for telehealth are now five times the level that they were in previous years. Telemedicine follows a similar trend. Again, there are regional differences in searches. Over the last year, the countries showing the greatest interest in telehealth were Australia and Canada, whereas the top three for telemedicine searches were Indonesia, India and Pakistan.

Target intent, not medical tourism

Google believes that when patients are searching for information on search engines, they are now showing intent through the nature of their search query. When using Google search, they are becoming more specific and seeking answers to questions which show intent. Patients showing intent don’t search for “medical tourism” or “medical tourism India”, they compose questions such as “how much is a hip replacement in Spain”, or “what does a dental implant cost in Hungary?”.

The SEO and online strategy for your medical tourism business needs to reflect the way that potential medical travellers are seeking information and target those that are clearly showing intent. In 2021, “intent focused marketing” will become increasingly important for online marketing success.