While most patients are familiar with using Google, Yahoo or MSN to search for medical information, many are unaware of other available search engines, and some even specifically designed for health information. In no particular order, here are some engines:

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Healia is a health search engine that lets users “filter” information based on “checked boxes”. Information is neatly organized into tabs (Prevention, Causes/Risks, Symptoms, Treatments). Each result has “Attributes” such as “Advanced reading, Privacy Policy, HONCode etc. Which would make more sense to an everyday user: “Attributes” which lists such characteristics as “Fast loading, Advanced Reading” or Healthline’s “Trust Mark” that displays sites which are “Doctor-Reviewed”? Initial glances at the “Attributes” area of Healia, slightly confused me as I did not know if it was a technical error or part of the search as the area blends into the search results and there was no explanation as to what “Attributes” meant.

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Medstory was acquired by Microsoft for an undisclosed sum. The site was developed by Alain Rappaport, MD. While search results are neatly organized at the top into categories such as “Drugs & Substances” or “People” the link results do not indicate any sort of Trust-Marks i.e. HONCode, reviewed by physician etc. There isn’t a way for users to differentiate legit sites from the gibberish background noise.

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My review on HealthVault can be found here

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My review on Healthline can be found here

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RevolutionHealth was started by AOL founder Steve Case. It uses Kosmix’s engine as a part of its search algorithm in addition to its own engine that searches within the site itself. Results are neatly organized on the left: Articles, News, Clinical Trials etc. RevlutionHealth offers doctor reviews, health communities, and expert bloggers as well as a way to organize your health records online.

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OrganizedWisdom lists its search results in a very uncluttered manner. It boasts to be the “the first human-powered, doctor-guided search service for health.” The results are neatly divided in areas showing results such as: What is Diabetes, What are the symptoms, Support Groups etc. However, I would not have guessed that the site had physicians guiding it because there is no clear designation (as compared to Healthline which has their physicians and healthcare experts on the front page).

Kosmix
Kosmix is a multi-purpose engine that does not solely focus upon health. That was probably why RightHealth was launched (See next link). The one correct strategy that Kosmix implemented that Microsoft HealthVault has not, is alerting the users of their “RightHealth” service. Any results pertaining to health found on Kosmix is linked to the “RightHealth” engine.

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RightHealth was developed by Kosmix. The engine splits the information into several sections such as web results, trusted sources, advanced reading, among others. What confuses me about this health site is the organization of the material. In health, trusted information is important because wrong information may be deadly. The “Trusted Resource” should be at the very top area of the site, not “Web Results” that display links to erroneous sites. In addition, RightHealth does not define what is a “Trusted Resource.” Is it a resource verified by a physician? Applies the HON code? etc.

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HealthFinder was developed by US Department of Health and Human Services

OmniMedicalSearch
OmniMedicalSearch searches up to 12 different medical search engines at once and brings back search results from at least 30 different sources. But quantity, does not equate quality.

GoogleHealth Co-Op
Company Description: “Topics are specific search areas that Google is developing with the help of expert contributors. Contributors to topics annotate websites that they think are especially useful, relevant, or authoritative to a topic with pre-defined category labels. These labels appear as links at the top of search results pages when users search for something related to the topic. Users can click these labels to refine their search results, giving priority to sites that have been labeled by topic contributors.”

Womens Health Search Enginewomenshealth.png
This search engine focuses upon then needs of women users. The engine was developed by the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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GirlsHealth is not a search engine but it is a useful resource just launched by the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is an interesting site because it targets younger girls who are learning about their changing body. For parents who have a difficulty time explaining the changes that go on during puberty, GirlsHealth is a useful resource to read and to share with your daughter.

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One stop medical site filled with quizzes, forum, interactive calculators and other things to assist patients in learning more about their condition. They are now offering a way to store your personal health record online as well as blogs written by healthcare experts, Q&A involving doctors, as well as a message board.

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MerckMedicus is one of the most comprehensive medical resources on the internet. While the site was originally geared towards medical professionals, it does have a “Patient Education” area that provides patient handouts, medical news, and clinical trials. Of most interest to patients may be an illustrated guides to surgeries and procedures as well as a list of patient support groups. For healthcare professionals, the site offers clinical references, images of infectious diseases, and disease modules among the other various tools available for free.

There is no form of advertisement on this site which was developed by Merck& Co.

Comments

  • Fragmented Team. Any health engine/site needs to make sure that they cover the basis and areas of all medicine. The team of advisors needs to make up a diverse team. Diagnosis/Disease: Physicians; Drugs/Medicare: Pharmacists; Teeth: Dentists; User-search behavior and organization: Medical Librarians, Daily Patient Care: Nurses. And most importantly…the people who directly use it – the patients. The majority of the search engine team consists of only physicians. You can’t fix the fragmented healthcare system with a fragmented team.
  • Lack of marketing. Of all the new engines/portals on here, I would have to say RevolutionHealth did the best in terms of marketing itself to healthcare providers and making use of their already established AOL database of users.. They were aggressive in presenting at conferences and sending information about their product. The campaign thus far would appear successful, proof of such when I ask patients “Have you heard of Healthline or Medstory?” Their answer was most often “No” but when referenced to “RevolutionHealth,” the answer typically sounded like: “Yes, that AOL guy founded it.”
  • No superior search engine. Of the mix above, none would I consider the “perfect search engine.” Each one of these have strong points and weak points. For instance, Healthline has the “Trust Mark” feature whereas Healia does not. WebMD has a Q&A section supported by physicians whereas some of the others do not. This is probably one of the most important features for any health site – the ability for patients to interact with doctors who may provide them with a second opinion. Everyone needs a “Friend” in healthcare. With that being said, these sites need to analyze and examine their competitors and add to their services what work and phase out what doesn’t.
  • The current health search engines are boring. Information about health does not always have to be boring. If I was searching for “Breast Cancer,” it would be nice to have information in regards to celebrities or interesting event such as the “American Idol Gives Back” special or about Lisa Spodak and Kelly Wold who waited hours after a celebrity event to acquire signatures in order to raise money for breast cancer. One could call them: uplifting news. Fighting a disease doesn’t have to be sad, depressing, or boring. It should be fun, inspirational, and empowering.
  • Don’t hold back on the [tasteful] graphics. When I have a pounding migraine with halos, coupled with nausea/vomiting, the last thing I’d like to see from my search engine is a screen filled with words that is completely overwhelming. Health search engines do not need to be so dry. Provide some more graphics or perhaps a screenshot of what the website looks like. Meaningful graphics could help cut the sea of text and help organize the looks and feel of a result. If I searched for “diabetes”, I’d like to see some pictures relating to diabetes.
  • Attack of the Clones. Most search engines seem to be clones of one another, presenting the information in a different fashion. The engines need to tackle other areas that patients search for, such as finding a doctor who speaks a particular language or accepts a certain health insurance plan.
  • Make health fun. Search engines need to provide a reason for users to come back and not just when they are sick. I know that a lot of intellectuals complain that health information from areas such as FitSugar or information provided by Cosmopolitan are “blonde” information. Health information delivered by health experts do not always have to be dry or focused upon clinical trials. More users will likely return or subscribe to a health expert on a search engine’s site if he/she made reading about health fun, filled with more pictures. For example, a breast cancer patient may get tired of reading about clinical breast cancer trials and just wants to read about what other breast cancer patients are doing to empower themselves or celebrities who are making a difference in healthcare.
  • Be the search engine of health tools while branding yourself.. Being a search engine does not mean merely providing information through search. The notion of a “health search engine” can be applied to other arenas. For example: For a women interested in fitness, the engine may provide her search results of fitness instructors or gyms in the area or a database of healthy recipes. In another example, a diabetic patient who wishes to keep his blood sugar information organized but does not want to keep it online would need customized documents. He needs a place to go where he may search for “useful printable documents” that he may use to monitor his sugar levels. All print outs would have the search engine’s logo on it, thereby building a brand.

Know what users want by talking to them. No one gives more insight and better information than a patient who is sick, complaining about his needs.

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