2020 Medical Search Trends: Medical Searches Met and Exceeded Pre-COVID Levels Across Specialities

March 4th, 2021 by Paula Keller French

Key Insights:

  • Monitoring search trends can make your campaigns more effective because you can adjust your strategy based on the latest information.
  • As of January 2021, several medical practice areas, including cardiology, neurology, urology, and gynecology, have seen their search volumes return to pre-COVID levels.
  • Cosmetic procedures saw a short-lived dip in search interest for liposuction, rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, and face lifts in March. By the end of May 2020, interest exceeded pre-COVID levels for 3 of the 4 procedures: liposuction, rhinoplasty, and breast augmentation. Face lift interest exceeded pre-COVID levels in late July.
  • Addiction treatment searches didn’t drastically dip as much as other medical specialties and have been slowly rising to their pre-COVID levels. The most recent data indicates they have now exceeded early 2020 interest.

2020 Medical Search Trends

Monitoring search trends is a critical piece of managing a productive digital marketing strategy. It can inform your need to adapt your marketing strategy, whether that is away from search to other mediums or to invest more heavily in search engine optimization and paid search.

2020 has seen shifts in search trends unlike anything I’ve seen in my 11 years working in SEO. It’s no surprise given the “pivots” and “unprecedented” year we’ve had. In a recent conversation with a colleague in the medical industry, we discussed expectations for 2020 healthcare revenue and what we’ve seen so far in the return of patient confidence.

I was interested to see how search trends on Google mapped with what we had seen with the practices and hospitals with which we work, so I took a look across several practice areas and assessed the data.

How do I read the Google Trends charts below?

Each chart that shows the change in the amount of interest in a given topic based on the number searches during a time frame. Specifically, Google calls this metric “Interest over time” and defines it as “search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.”

For more on how Google calculates Trends, see here: FAQ about Google Trends.

I have included a table of my own analysis of the numerical data, looking for highs, lows, and averages both “pre-COVID” and “post-COVID.”

In some analyses below, we look at “Topics” which looks across several ways people could be searching to gauge searchers interest level at a point in time. In others, we look at “Search terms” which is used when it makes sense to compare to similar search terms that would otherwise fall under the same topic (such as “drug rehab” & “alcohol rehab,” as they both fall under the topic of “addiction treatment”).

Medical Specialities: Cardiology, Neurology, Urology, Gynecology, Oncology

Summary of findings for medical speciality search trends:

  • By October 2020, searches were either at or right below pre-COVID levels, and saw a similar peak in January 2021.
  • Cardiology, neurology, urology, and gynecology all follow the same pattern: initially, searches for these specialties dipped in March 2020, but people were still searching for these terms, even in the earliest days of the shutdowns.
  • The lowest point of searches for these topics was around mid-April, which is when the public started to recognize that this stay-at-home life was going to become our new normal for much longer than we originally thought.
  • Since April 2020, searches have been on the rise, with dips during the holiday weeks of July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
  • Oncology saw a lower level of variation throughout the year. Interest levels dipped slightly after the shutdown and remained steady afterward, with an interest level ranging from 21-38, averaging around 30.

2020 Google Trends for Medical Specialties

Cosmetic Procedures: Liposuction, Breast Augmentation, Rhinoplasty, Rhytidectomy (Facelift)

2020 cosmetic surgery trends chart

Summary of findings for cosmetic procedure search trends:

  • There was an initial, short-lived dip in search interest for liposuction, rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, and face lifts (rhytidectomy). This dip spanned across the end of March and into April.
  • After the dip, there was a surge in interest, with the number of searches actually exceeding pre-COVID levels at the end of January 2021 for liposuction, rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, and face lifts.
    After the dip, there was a surge in interest, with the number of searches actually exceeding pre-COVID levels at the end of January 2021 for liposuction, rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, and face lifts.
  • By late January 2021, liposuction saw peak interest (100), significantly exceeding pre-COVID interest levels, when the peak was 79.
    Rhinoplasty interest also peaked in July and remains above the pre-COVID average.
  • Breast augmentation search interest met and then exceeded pre-COVID interest in the summer of 2020, and has peaked above the pre-COVID high in January 2021.
  • Face lift interest initially peaked in July at 36, decreased a bit through the fall, and peaked again in January 2021, with an interest level of 33, which is higher than the pre-COVID peak of 31.

2020 Google Trends for Cosmetic Surgery industry

Addiction Treatment: Drug rehab, Addiction treatment, Alcohol rehab

2020 addiction treatment google trends chart

The addiction treatment search interest analysis is based on specific “search term” interest, whereas medical and cosmetic graphs above were based on topic interest. This is a result of the availability of data for topics vs. search terms.

Summary of findings for addiction treatment search trends:

  • There was also a significant dip in addiction treatment search terms, but interest has risen to varying degrees in comparison to pre-COVID peaks.
    The search term “Drug rehab” saw it post-COVID peak interest (89) in the week of August 16, which is only slightly less than the pre-COVID high on February 16 (100).
  • The pre-COVID 2020 average for “addiction treatment” was 60. During the heaviest shutdown period (March 15–May 10), the average interest was 44, with the lowest point being 26 on March 15. The post-COVID peak was September 27, with an interest level close to pre-COVID levels (58).
  • “Alcohol rehab” searches reached their peak (58) during the week of December 27, exceeding the pre-COVID 2020 high of 52 in late January.

Addiction treatment data chart

How can search trends help us help more patients?

I assume that by now you’ve compared this data to what you see at your practice or hospital. The goal of monitoring search trends (along with your own campaign-level data) is to inform necessary adjustments to your marketing strategy.

During the early months of shutdowns, we were hyper-focused on looking for shifts in consumer behavior to adjust our strategies. In the best-case scenarios, we were able to shift budget to the channels where our clients’ audiences were spending their time and away from the channels where they weren’t as active (and produced some really awesome results). Then, we made additional changes when that activity returned.

There are several reasons we can attribute to the overall return of searches and why in many cases, medical searches are exceeding their pre-COVID levels. Whatever the reasons, this is a critical time for businesses to analyze their marketing mix closely to assure they are both

  • carefully spending their marketing budget
  • confident they’ll understand the outcomes of their marketing investment

If you’d like some support in analyzing where you’re currently investing in marketing, want some fresh ideas, or are interested in partnering with an agency like ours, reach out. Our dedicated team of strategists will work with you to understand your goals for 2021 and provide recommendations to help you build your patient pipeline.

P.S. If you are looking for more insights, check out our recent post “How Hospitals and Healthcare Practices Can Adapt to Google Updates” and follow along with us on our Healthcare & Medical Marketing Blog for future industry updates.