The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on online interest in urologic conditions
Michael Rezaee, MD, MPH, Amanda Swanton, MD, PhD, Martin Gross, MD.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH, USA.
BACKGROUND: The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on urologic care are only beginning to be understood. Search engines can be used to track public interest in health conditions and evaluate how this interest changes in response to major societal events. We aimed to examine trends in online search behaviors related to benign and malignant urologic conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic using a major search engine.
METHODS: Google Trends was queried using the terms prostate cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, urinary incontinence (UI), kidney stone, erectile dysfunction (ED), peyronies disease (PD), benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), infertility, and vasectomy between January 2019 and February 2021. Search volume index (SVI), a measure of relative search volume on Google, was obtained for each search term and examined by time period: prior to widespread public knowledge of COVID-19 (January 2019 - January 2020) and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States (February 2020 - February 2021).
RESULTS: Online interest in urologic malignancies decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Average SVI for prostate cancer (87.7 vs. 77.6, p<0.001), bladder cancer (74.0 vs. 65.7, p<0.001), and kidney cancer (62.2 vs. 54.1, p<0.001) significantly decreased over time. Average SVI for benign urologic conditions, including UI (80.2 vs. 77.6, p=0.09), BPH (79.6 vs. 78.8, p=0.67), ED (49.8 vs. 47.2, p=0.12) and PD (47.7 vs. 42.8, p=0.16) did not change during the pandemic, with the exception of kidney stones which decreased (86.4 vs. 82.6, p=0.02). Online interest in infertility significantly increased during the pandemic (52.2 vs. 57.3, p=0.01), while interest in vasectomies decreased (49.8 vs 44.6, p<0.01).
CONCLUSIONS: Online interest in urologic malignancies was differentially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which raises significant questions about the potential effects on cancer patients. The pandemic had no effect on online interest in benign urologic conditions. Infertility was the only condition that experienced an increase in online interest during the pandemic.
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