Global trends in the awareness of sepsis: insights from search engine data between 2012 and 2017

Crit Care. 2018 Jan 17;22(1):7. doi: 10.1186/s13054-017-1914-8.


Background: Sepsis is an established global health priority with high mortality that can be curtailed through early recognition and intervention; as such, efforts to raise awareness are potentially impactful and increasingly common. We sought to characterize trends in the awareness of sepsis by examining temporal, geographic, and other changes in search engine utilization for sepsis information-seeking online.

Methods: Using time series analyses and mixed descriptive methods, we retrospectively analyzed publicly available global usage data reported by Google Trends (Google, Palo Alto, CA, USA) concerning web searches for the topic of sepsis between 24 June 2012 and 24 June 2017. Google Trends reports aggregated and de-identified usage data for its search products, including interest over time, interest by region, and details concerning the popularity of related queries where applicable. Outlying epochs of search activity were identified using autoregressive integrated moving average modeling with transfer functions. We then identified awareness campaigns and news media coverage that correlated with epochs of significantly heightened search activity.

Results: A second-order autoregressive model with transfer functions was specified following preliminary outlier analysis. Nineteen significant outlying epochs above the modeled baseline were identified in the final analysis that correlated with 14 awareness and news media events. Our model demonstrated that the baseline level of search activity increased in a nonlinear fashion. A recurrent cyclic increase in search volume beginning in 2012 was observed that correlates with World Sepsis Day. Numerous other awareness and media events were correlated with outlying epochs. The average worldwide search volume for sepsis was less than that of influenza, myocardial infarction, and stroke.

Conclusions: Analyzing aggregate search engine utilization data has promise as a mechanism to measure the impact of awareness efforts. Heightened information-seeking about sepsis occurs in close proximity to awareness events and relevant news media coverage. Future work should focus on validating this approach in other contexts and comparing its results to traditional methods of awareness campaign evaluation.

Keywords: Autoregressive integrated moving average; Disease awareness; Global health; Public health; Sepsis; Time series analysis.

MeSH terms

  • Global Health / standards*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Interrupted Time Series Analysis / methods
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Search Engine / methods
  • Search Engine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sepsis / diagnosis*
  • Sepsis / physiopathology*