Google searches may forecast grads’ declining interest in radiology

Online search tools may be helpful in predicting United States medical school graduates’ interest, or lack thereof, in radiology residency positions, finds a study published online Oct. 11 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Nora Haney, from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues tracked this specific demographic’s interest in entering the field of radiology by comparing online search data with data from the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).

Conducting the study on April 6, 2013, Haney and colleagues analyzed NRMP data from 2004-2013. They specifically examined the number of radiology positions offered, the total number of positions filled, and the number of positions filled by U.S. graduates. Researchers then utilized autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) time-series analysis to evaluate Google Trend results for the search terms “radiology residency” and “radiology salary” from the same time period.

Results indicated a downward trend over time for the relative number of searches for “radiology residency” and an upward trend from 2008-2010 for “radiology salary.” Despite a slight decrease in 2011, the trend stabilized through the beginning of 2013. NRMP data showed an increase in diagnostic radiology residency positions by U.S. graduates from 2005-2009, but a decrease from 2010-2013, even as the number of active graduates grew.

The researchers believe that the increase in searches for “radiology salary” may be due in part to the numerous reductions in medical imaging that have taken place since 2006, with three importantly occurring in 2010.

Haney and colleagues remark, “If the Google Trends data are predictive, the ARIMA model forecasting that the downward trend is expected to continue into the future should give us pause. We are likely to see a further loss of US graduates practicing radiology. However, if cuts to reimbursement or other political headwinds continue, the trend will likely worsen, but only time and future analyses will tell.”