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TECHNOLOGY

Google search interest in “telehealth” spikes 317% because of pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a world of change, some of which might be permanent. Will we ever again pack concerts with close to 100,000 people or jam into subways like sardines? Will mask-wearing and social-distancing carry on long after the pandemic has ended? Has online shopping delivered the final nail in the coffin for brick-and-mortar shopping? Will traditional education give way to virtual learning?

Will telehealth services and online doctors replace a sizable chunk of in-person doctor visits? That last one is entirely possible according to a new study completed by OnlineDoctor.com. By tracking national and state-by-state Google Search trends over a two-year duration, OnlineDoctor found there’s been a massive uptick in consumer telehealth interest since just about the exact day a national state of emergency was declared in the United States. The findings were then reinforced by a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Google search interest for “telehealth” surged by 317% immediately after national emergency declared in the U.S.

Researchers at OnlineDoctor.com, tracked and compared Google Search interest for two terms, “telehealth” and “doctor near me,” over a two-year time period to understand how the coronavirus pandemic is reshaping the health services industry. For reference, they only analyzed Google Search data for the U.S.

  • On March 8, 2020, Google Search interest for the search term “telehealth” clocked in at 24. On March 13, 2020, a national state of emergency was declared in the U.S.
  • Two days later on March 15, 2020, Google Search interest in the U.S. for the search term “telehealth” surged to 100, indicating maximum consumer interest for the term.
  • This means that week-over-week Google Search interest for “telehealth” skyrocketed by 317% immediately after the country went into a nationwide lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic began its domination over any and everything else happening in the world.
  • Over this same period (March 8, 2020 to March 15, 2020), Google Search interest for the search term “doctor near me” decreased by 28%. in the U.S.
  • From its peak on March 15, 2020, Google Search interest in “telehealth” began to descend but it has since stabilized around 20, which is still far higher than any pre-pandemic search interest levels for the term.
  • For example, on Jan. 13, 2019, Google Search interest for “telehealth” was at 5. Nearly two years later on Jan. 3, 2021, Google Search interest for the same term was at 21, which represents a 320% increase.

What does it mean?

Perhaps the use of telehealth services and online doctors is here to stay as people try to limit their interactions with strangers to reduce their chances of getting exposed to COVID-19 or any other viruses.

Now and when the pandemic is history, nearly all people will have a heightened sense of caution and awareness when it comes to their own health and the spreading of germs and diseases.

That’s just what happens when a pandemic ravages the entire world and kills over 2.3 million people. As a result, in-person visits to doctor offices, which are typically filled with sick people and contagious germs, may be greatly reduced and replaced by telehealth appointments with online doctors. Additionally, people are now used to doing things virtually, from online learning to online doctor appointments, and many even prefer it. This too will contribute to the rise of online doctors at the expense of traditional in-person medical visits.

All this being said, we still won’t know for certain that telehealth services and online doctors are actually eating away at the market share held by in-person doctor appointments until the pandemic has been over for at least a full year and we can go back and visit Google Search trends to see if “telehealth” search interest has fallen back to around 5 or maintained its current level around 20. But it seems to be trending towards the latter, especially when you consider recent data published by the CDC on the rise of telehealth services.

CDC survey shows rise in doctors offering telehealth services

Before hopping into the CDC survey, other data from the government agency showed there was a 154% increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020 compared to the same time last year. This data supports the notion that online doctors are on the rise as a result of the pandemic, but a separate survey from the CDC, published on Nov. 2, 2020, found that there’s been a significant increase in the number of doctors that are providing telehealth services to their patients.

Just 14.1% of poll participants had a healthcare provider (doctor) that offered telemedicine services prior to the pandemic. Now though, 36.6% of poll participants have a healthcare provider that offers telemedicine services, which is an increase of 22.5 percentage points.

The CDC survey demonstrates that more doctors are adapting to the pandemic by becoming online doctors and offering telehealth services. This will only speed up the trend in which telehealth and online doctor services become more popular at the expense of in-person doctor visits.

This becomes doubly true if people enjoy their online doctor visits so much that they then prefer telehealth services over in-person doctor appointments and begin opting for doctors that offer virtual services over doctors that don’t in a post-pandemic world.

Moreover, doctors and health professionals may soon discover that they themselves prefer doing telehealth appointments and may even find that being an online doctor is more cost-effective and easier to run as a business compared to an in-person clinic. If that’s the case, we will likely see telehealth and online doctor services catchup to traditional, in-person visits in terms of medical market share in a world after the coronavirus.

 

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