Background: Web-based sources are increasingly employed in the analysis, detection, and forecasting of diseases and epidemics, and in predicting human behavior toward several health topics. This use of the internet has come to be known as infodemiology, a concept introduced by Gunther Eysenbach. Infodemiology and infoveillance studies use web-based data and have become an integral part of health informatics research over the past decade.
Objective: The aim of this paper is to provide a scoping review of the state-of-the-art in infodemiology along with the background and history of the concept, to identify sources and health categories and topics, to elaborate on the validity of the employed methods, and to discuss the gaps identified in current research.
Methods: The PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines were followed to extract the publications that fall under the umbrella of infodemiology and infoveillance from the JMIR, PubMed, and Scopus databases. A total of 338 documents were extracted for assessment.
Results: Of the 338 studies, the vast majority (n=282, 83.4%) were published with JMIR Publications. The Journal of Medical Internet Research features almost half of the publications (n=168, 49.7%), and JMIR Public Health and Surveillance has more than one-fifth of the examined studies (n=74, 21.9%). The interest in the subject has been increasing every year, with 2018 featuring more than one-fourth of the total publications (n=89, 26.3%), and the publications in 2017 and 2018 combined accounted for more than half (n=171, 50.6%) of the total number of publications in the last decade. The most popular source was Twitter with 45.0% (n=152), followed by Google with 24.6% (n=83), websites and platforms with 13.9% (n=47), blogs and forums with 10.1% (n=34), Facebook with 8.9% (n=30), and other search engines with 5.6% (n=19). As for the subjects examined, conditions and diseases with 17.2% (n=58) and epidemics and outbreaks with 15.7% (n=53) were the most popular categories identified in this review, followed by health care (n=39, 11.5%), drugs (n=40, 10.4%), and smoking and alcohol (n=29, 8.6%).
Conclusions: The field of infodemiology is becoming increasingly popular, employing innovative methods and approaches for health assessment. The use of web-based sources, which provide us with information that would not be accessible otherwise and tackles the issues arising from the time-consuming traditional methods, shows that infodemiology plays an important role in health informatics research.
Keywords: big data; infodemiology; infoveillance; internet; review; web-based data.
©Amaryllis Mavragani. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 28.04.2020.