This is Maine’s most Googled health problem

Much to our doctors’ chagrin, many of us first turn to Google when we have a question about a health issue.

A computer user posing in front of a Google search page. Francois Glories | REUTERS

Sometimes we anxiously punch in search terms about symptoms we’re experiencing. “How long does the flu last?” or “How long is pinkeye contagious?” were among the more popular health searches last year, according to one roundup.

Or we want to know more about health topics in the news, such as Zika virus or traumatic brain injury.

A new analysis examines the most commonly Googled health terms at the state level. and Medicare Health Plans (a private company) teamed up to use Google Trends to identify the most searched health-related keywords in the U.S. over the last year. Then they cross-referenced the results by state to find out what health condition each state consulted “Dr. Google” about most frequently.

I can’t really vouch for their methodology, but the most Googled health condition they discovered in Maine makes a lot of sense: opioid use disorder.

Heroin seized in 2016 as the result of a Maine Drug Enforcement Agency investigation into alleged heroin trafficking out of a Saco motel room.

In a state that averaged more than one overdose death per day in 2016, driven by an influx of heroin and the opioid fentanyl, it’s no wonder that Mainers want to know more about the medical condition behind the crisis. New data also show that Maine was second-highest for its rate of opioid-related ER visits in 2014, after leading the nation in 2009 and 2010.

(If you’re looking for reliable information on opioid use disorder, here’s a good place to start.)

Maine isn’t the only state concerned about addiction, according to the analysis. Alaskans most frequently Googled “substance abuse,” while Montana’s top health concern was alcoholism.

Nationally, the most frequently Google health terms were diabetes and asthma. According to the U.S. CDC, more than 9 percent of Americans have diabetes and nearly 8 percent are diagnosed with asthma.

Wyoming and New Hampshire turned to Google most frequently for answers about health conditions, while Oregon and Nevada showed low search volumes for health-related keywords.

In case you’re not already convinced that Google isn’t the best way to diagnose that rash or mystery pain, a study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School found that online symptom checkers are correct only 34 percent of the time. Two-thirds of patients who used them didn’t need medical attention but sought it out anyway, in a phenomenon the researchers called “cyberchondria.”

That being said, last year Google launched “Symptom Search,” a tool designed to return more accurate medical information to the cyberchondriacs among us.

Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.