Global Online Interest in Telehealth, Telemedicine, Telerehabilitation, and Related Search Terms Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Infodemiological Study
Background. Catalyzed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that restricted non-essential travel, awareness of the value of telehealth increased among healthcare providers and consumers. Telerehabilitation, a subset of telehealth and telemedicine, refers explicitly to the remote provision of rehabilitation services. However, since the majority were new to the concept of telerehabilitation, which was commonly interchanged with other related terms (e.g., telehealth, telemedicine, teletherapy, telecare, telepractice, etc.), and relevant internationally recognized guidelines were not available pre-pandemic, many turned to online resources to learn more about it. However, such might create confusion with the terminologies.
Objective. This infodemiological study aimed to examine the trends of global online interest in telehealth, telemedicine, telerehabilitation, and related search terms. The authors hypothesized an abrupt rise in stakeholders' awareness regarding the virtual method of delivering or accessing healthcare, including rehabilitation services, during the pandemic.
Method. Using Google Trends™, we obtained and analyzed the trends of global online interest in telehealth, telemedicine, telerehabilitation, and other related search terms from 2004 to October 2020.
Results. The frequencies of searches for “telehealth,” “telemedicine,” and “telerehabilitation” peaked in March 2020, which coincided with the lockdown in many countries, including the Philippines. The term “telehealth” was more frequently searched in western countries, while “telemedicine” was relatively common in eastern countries. Among the terms synonymous with telerehabilitation, “teletherapy” was most commonly used worldwide, with “teletherapy speech” being the most searched related topic. The Philippines had the most significant number of times the term “telerehabilitation” was searched in the past decade.
Conclusion. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an overall global demand for the acquisition of knowledge related to telehealth, telemedicine, telerehabilitation, and related search terms. Of particular interest, tele rehabilitation, however, varied in terminologies across countries, with “teletherapy” mainly being used worldwide and “telerehabilitation” being primarily searched in the Philippines. Therefore, arriving at a consensus across professional societies and operationally defining different interrelated terms could help streamline our current or future guidelines and programs.