Despite increasing opportunities for acquiring health information online, discussion of the specific words used in searches has been limited.
This study clarifies health information sought by Japanese netizens.
This study analyzed the data from one of the most popular domestic search engines (Yahoo! JAPAN Search) and the most popular domestic community question answering (CQA) service (Yahoo! Chiebukuro). We compared the frequency of 100 clinical words appearing in the clinical case reports of medical professionals (“clinical frequency”) with their frequency in Yahoo! JAPAN Search (“search frequency”) search logs and questions posted to Yahoo! Chiebukuro (“question frequency”). Subsequently, the Spearman correlation was used to quantify association patterns between the three search categories. Additionally, user information (sex and age) in search frequency associated with registration were extracted and discussed.
The correlation coefficient was r = 0.290 (P=.003) between clinical and search frequencies, r = 0.337(P =.001) between clinical and question frequencies, and r = 0.569 (P <.001) between search and question frequencies. Low-frequency words in clinical frequency, (e.g., “hypothyroidism” and “ulcerative colitis”) were high in search frequency. Similarly, the words “pain,” “slight fever,” and “numbness” had high frequency only in the question frequency. The weighted average of the ages was 34.5 ± 2.7 years, and the weighted average of sex (male: -1, female: 1) was 0.1 ± 0.1 in search frequency. Some words were extracted from the search frequency uniquely based on age groups: “dyspnea,” “abdominal pain,” “subjective symptoms,” and “plasma cells” (10-20 years); “plasma cells,” “inflammatory findings,” “hypoxemia,” “cellular wetness,” and “dyspnea on exertion” (20-30 years); “DM (diabetes mellitus),” “jaundice,” and “high blood pressure” (30-40 years); “abnormal shadow,” “plasma cells,” “inflammatory findings,” “hyponatremia,” “cell wetness,” and “hypercalcemia” (40-50 years); “rheumatoid arthritis,” “hypertension,” “abnormal shadow,” and “inflammatory findings” (50-60 years); and “interstitial pneumonia,” “lung cancer,” “gastric cancer,” “hypertension,” “atrial fibrillation,” and “pneumococcus” (60-70 years).
The search and question frequencies were similar, but search and clinical frequencies had a discrepancy. Low-clinical frequency words related to diseases such as hypothyroidism and ulcerative colitis had high search frequencies, whereas those related to symptoms such as pain, slight fever, and numbness had high question frequencies. Moreover, high search frequency words include designated intractable diseases such as “ulcerative colitis”; patients with this condition are less than 0.1% of the national population. Therefore, information needs regarding major diseases are not necessarily high, and minor diseases that users seek more frequently should be valued. Some characteristic words for certain age groups were observed (e.g., 20-40 years: “cancer”; 40-60 years: diagnoses and diseases identified in health examinations; 60-70 years: diseases with late adulthood onset and “death”). In conclusion, information providers should be aware of clinical frequency and users’ medical information gaps should be bridged.