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Article of the week: ‘Dr Google’: trends in online interest in prostate cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment

Every week, the Editor-in-Chief selects an Article of the Week from the current issue of BJUI. The abstract is reproduced below and you can click on the button to read the full article, which is freely available to all readers for at least 30 days from the time of this post.

In addition to the article itself, there is an editorial and a visual abstract written by prominent members of the urological community. These are intended to provoke comment and discussion and we invite you to use the comment tools at the bottom of each post to join the conversation. 

If you only have time to read one article this month, it should be this one.

‘Dr Google’: trends in online interest in prostate cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment

Michael E. Rezaee*, Briana Goddard, Einar F. Sverrisson*, John D. Seigne* and Lawrence M. Dagrosa*

*Section of Urology, Department of Surgery, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, and Geisel School of Medicine, Hanover

Abstract

Objectives

To examine trends in online search behaviours related to prostate cancer on a national and regional scale using a dominant major search engine.

Materials and Methods

Google Trends was queried using the terms ‘prostate cancer’, ‘prostate‐specific antigen’ (PSA), and ‘prostate biopsy’ between January 2004 and January 2019. Search volume index (SVI), a measure of relative search volume on Google, was obtained for all terms and examined by region and time period: pre‐US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) Grade D draft recommendation on PSA screening; during the active Grade D recommendation; and after publication of the recent Grade C draft recommendation.

Results

Online interest in PSA screening differed by time period (P < 0.01). The SVI for PSA screening was greater pre‐Grade D draft recommendation (82.7) compared to during the recommendation (74.5), while the SVI for PSA screening was higher post‐Grade C draft recommendation (90.4) compared to both prior time periods. Similar results were observed for prostate biopsy and prostate cancer searches. At the US state level, online interest in prostate cancer was highest in South Carolina (SVI 100) and lowest in Hawaii (SVI 64). For prostate cancer treatment options, online interest in cryotherapy, prostatectomy and prostate cancer surgery overall increased, while searches for active surveillance, external beam radiation, brachytherapy and high‐intensity focused ultrasonography remained stable.

Conclusion

Online interest in prostate cancer has changed over time, particularly in accordance with USPSTF screening guidelines. Google Trends may be a useful tool in tracking public interest in prostate cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment, especially as it relates to major shifts in practice guidelines.

Editorial: Does Dr Google give good advice about prostate cancer?

In this issue of BJUI, Rezaee et al. [1] report on Google trends as a barometer of public interest in PSA screening and different types of prostate cancer treatment in the USA. Not surprisingly, they found a decrease in Google searches about PSA screening after the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a Grade D recommendation against screening. This corresponds with observed trends of decreased PSA screening in the population [2]. Notably, the volume of Google searches about PSA screening rebounded after the USPSTF changed to a Grade C recommendation for shared decision-making about screening. It is unknown whether this actually reflects a greater number of men discussing PSA screening with their doctors, or whether online information had an impact on their decisions.

Meanwhile, the quantity of Google search activity varied between different types of prostate cancer treatment. In the USA, search volume was higher for surgery than for active surveillance, and there was a greater search volume for high intensity focused ultrasonography (HIFU) than for external beam radiation therapy or brachytherapy. Notably, another recent study examined global Google trends in searches on prostate cancer treatment, showing increasing annual relative search volume for focal therapy and active surveillance over time [3]. The underlying reasons for these temporal and geographic differences in ‘public interest’ may be multifactorial, including recommendations from physicians and professional societies, support from policy-makers, public awareness campaigns from healthcare-related organizations and marketing from commercial companies. Whether the change in ‘public interest’ had any impact on treatment selection remains unknown.

As an increasing number of people are going online for health information, digital platforms provide useful barometers for public interest in different topics. For example, another recent study reported that prostate cancer was a topic with high public interest based on the number of video views on YouTube compared to other urological conditions [4]. While interesting, the number of Google searches or views on YouTube do not provide any insights into who is searching for the information, their motivation, and the quality of information that they received.

Concerningly, several recent studies have called into question the accuracy of information about prostate cancer across multiple online platforms. Asafu-Adjei et al. [5] reported that websites on HIFU and cryotherapy had a substantial amount of incomplete or inaccurate information. Alsyouf et al. [6] reported that seven of the 10 most commonly shared articles about prostate cancer on social media were inaccurate or misleading. Finally, our group reported that 77% of the first 150 YouTube videos about prostate cancer had potentially misinformative and/or biased content in the video itself or the comments underneath [7]. Alarmingly, the quality of information was inversely correlated with the number of views. More research is needed to evaluate the impact of exposure to online misinformation on prostate cancer screening and treatment.

Overall, the online environment holds great promise and also great peril in prostate cancer. On one hand, digital networks have opened up new opportunities for global scientific exchange and have the potential to greatly improve patient care. Conversely, there is a substantial amount of misinformation on the internet, and the potential for a negative impact on patients and their families. As a urological community, we should be pro-active about directing our patients to trustworthy online resources, and should actively participate in digital networks to help share high-quality information with the public. More strategic effort should also be made to maximize the degree of reach and engagement upon dissemination of high-quality information.

by Stacy Loeb, Nataliya Byrne and Jeremy Teoh

References

  1. Rezaee ME, Goddard B, Sverrisson EF, Seigne JD, Dagrosa LM. ‘Dr Google’: trends in online interest in prostate cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment. BJU Int 2019; 124: 629–34
  2. Magnani CJ, Li K, Seto T et al. PSA Testing Use and Prostate Cancer Diagnostic Stage After the 2012 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Guideline Changes. JNCCN 2019; 17: 795–803
  3. Cacciamani GE, Bassi S, Sebben M et al. Consulting “Dr. Google” for prostate cancer treatment options. A contemporary worldwide trend analysis. Eur Urol Oncol 2019; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euo.2019.07.002
  4. Borgmann H, Salem J, Baunacke M et al. Mapping the landscape of urology: a new media-based cross-sectional analysis of public versus academic interest. Int J Urol 2018; 25: 421–8
  5. Asafu-Adjei D, Mikkilineni N, Sebesta E, Hyams E. Misinformation on the Internet regarding Ablative Therapies for Prostate Cancer. Urology 2019; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.urology.2018.12.050
  6. Alsyouf M, Stokes P, Hur D, Amasyali A, Ruckle H, Hu B. ‘Fake News’ in urology: evaluating the accuracy of articles shared on social media in genitourinary malignancies. BJU Int 2019; 124: 701–6
  7. Loeb S, Sengupta S, Butaney M et al. Dissemination of Misinformative and Biased Information about Prostate Cancer on YouTube. Eur Urol 2019; 27: 564–7

 

Chipping away at the body politic one study at a time: the case for more ‘unprofessional’ online content

The recent paper by Koo et al. [1] on ‘unprofessional’ online content amongst American urology residency graduates has received attention in the lay press and social media outlets. The paper has an Altmetric Attention score of 341 [2] – good for the fifth most online-cited paper the BJUI has ever published. Seventeen news outlets have reported the study, including MSN, Medscape, and US News & World Report.

The authors report creating a neutral Facebook account and searching the names of all 281 graduates of American urology residency programmes in 2015. They perused 201 accounts presumably belonging to graduates. Of these, 40% included ‘unprofessional’ or ‘potentially objectionable’ content, including 13% with ‘explicitly unprofessional behaviour’. On the surface, we agree these findings make compelling headlines. Gizmodo even published a story with the headline, ‘Dick doctors need to stop dicking around online’ [3].

The focus of the paper on trainees, not faculty, is also a flaw. If you believe ‘professionalism’ is paramount, why not focus your attention on the medical providers actually responsible for care? Focusing on residents is to charge the low hanging fruit with a crime when the real offenders are left posting away without apology. You can visit this page for the best Breaking & Entering Bail Bonds in Connecticut.

Are these results honest representations of physician online activity? Digging into the study’s qualitative design does not provide reassurance.

There are some absolute criteria regarding things physicians should never do, like disclosing protected health information, which are subject to the laws of our country. Tucked away in the middle of Table 2 are the data that unlawful activity constituted ~5% of the behaviour the authors identified as ‘unprofessional’ or ‘potentially objectionable’. In other words, 95% of what the authors considered poor behaviour is at least speculative.

Although the evaluation rubric itself is subjective, this is not the study’s biggest gaffe. Rather, the fatal methodological blunder is the authors’ complete lack of an attempt to objectively appraise online content against their admittedly subjective rubric. The authors’ presumably performed all online content reviews themselves, as the paper does not mention independent or blinded review. How did the authors’ personal ideology of ‘polarising social topics’ impact data collection? Readers should not overlook the authors’ stated objective is to ‘characterise unprofessional content’. Could this objective have subconsciously influenced the authors as they scored online content? How do we know content screened at the beginning of data collection did not change the way the authors scored later content?

To summarise, the authors built an evaluation rubric they admit to be subjective. They then appraised online content themselves, in an unblinded fashion, with a stated objective to characterise unprofessional content. Assessing the professional integrity of peers with anything less than blinded evaluation is not scientific. Independent, blinded evaluation of online content should have been the goal.

Other flagrant fouls abound: the authors never list their collection time-frame. Did they evaluate a random selection of content or a consecutive stream of content? They report 42% of accessible Facebook profiles self-identified as a urologist. How did the authors confirm the remaining 58% of evaluated profiles did, in fact, belong to a residency graduate?

The authors reviewed Facebook profiles in July 2015. Since the authors flagged any photograph, text, or link pertaining to politics, religion, or any polarising social topics it is worth considering a small sample of the events in the USA during June 2015:

  • The 2016 USA presidential election picked up steam.
  • The surviving Boston Marathon bomber was sentenced to death.
  • The USA Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage, and execution pharmacology.
  • A White male opened fire in a predominantly black parish, killing nine.

Good luck finding something ‘non-polarising’ in the news. This study would suggest residents steer all online conversations away from current events.

This study [1] is, to borrow a new hackneyed American aphorism, fake news. BJUI promotes intellectual discourse through responsible use of social media, yet this study muzzles free speech by stigmatising expression. Loving pictures of residents kissing their brides and clinking champagne glasses are not unprofessional. Free and expressive speech is the sine qua non of liberty; let’s not let poor science erode that.

Christopher E. Bayne* , Benjamin J. Davies
*Division of Pediatric Urology, Childrens National Health System, Washington, DC, and Department of Urology, University of Pittsburgh and Hillman Cancer Center, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

 

Cite this article: Bayne, C. E. and Davies, B. J. (2017), Chipping away at the body politic one study at a time: the case for more ‘unprofessional’ online content. BJU Int. doi:10.1111/bju.13986

 

References

 

1 Koo K, Flicko Z, Gormley EA. Unprofessional content on Facebook accounts of US urology residency graduates. BJU Int 2017; 119: 95560

 

2 Altmetric. Unprofessional content on Facebook accounts of US urology residency graduates. Available at: https://www.altmetric.com/details/ 18697241. Published April 2017. Accessed 24 July 2017

 

3 Gizmodo. Dick doctors need to stop dicking around online. Available at: https://gizmodo.com/dick-doctors-need-to-stop-dicking-around-online-1794192079. Published 11 April 2017. Accessed 3 May 2017

 

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