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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Measuring the impact of health policies using Internet search patterns: the case of abortion

Ben Y Reis and John S Brownstein

Author affiliations

Children's Hospital Informatics Program, Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2010, 10:514  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-514

Published: 25 August 2010

Abstract

Background

Internet search patterns have emerged as a novel data source for monitoring infectious disease trends. We propose that these data can also be used more broadly to study the impact of health policies across different regions in a more efficient and timely manner.

Methods

As a test use case, we studied the relationships between abortion-related search volume, local abortion rates, and local abortion policies available for study.

Results

Our initial integrative analysis found that, both in the US and internationally, the volume of Internet searches for abortion is inversely proportional to local abortion rates and directly proportional to local restrictions on abortion.

Conclusion

These findings are consistent with published evidence that local restrictions on abortion lead individuals to seek abortion services outside of their area. Further validation of these methods has the potential to produce a timely, complementary data source for studying the effects of health policies.