According to the Pew Research Center, 52% of smartphone owners have looked up health information on their phone, compared with just six percent of other cell phone owners. In fact, it is commonly recognized that most people use the Internet for a preliminary review of their physical symptoms. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of adult Internet users say they have searched online for info about health issues, most often looking at specific diseases and treatments, and online marketing for doctors often comes up during such searches. While it might be bad news for obsessive hypochondriacs out there, local search of symptoms might soon lead to instances of early detection for health care professionals:
According to the New York Times, scientists at Microsoft have come out with a new study, published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, which shows that by analyzing very large samples of data from search engine queries, they may be able to identify certain Internet users who are suffering from pancreatic cancer — before they even get a diagnosis.
The implications of this study are endless — telemedicine could greatly benefit from this type of tool for early detection, especially if it proves as effective as it seemed in the study.
The study was conducted by focussing on searches conducted on Bing, the Microsoft search engine, that indicated a user had been diagnosed with the cancer. Then, the researchers worked backwards looking for earlier online queries that indicated that the Bing user was experiencing symptoms before their diagnosis.
The researchers reported that they were able to identify five to 15% of pancreatic cases, with false positive rates as low as one in 100, 000. Indeed, this type of study could indicate the next stage in the role of technology in health.
“I think the mainstream medical literature has been resistant to these kinds of studies and this kind of data,” Dr. Horvitz said. “We’re hoping that this stimulates quite a bit of interesting conversation.”
Advanced health and technology applications like this study are promising, but in a study of marketers working for healthcare organizations, 90% of respondents said their organizations lack marketers with sufficient digital skills. The health sector in general is struggling to keep up.