Oct. 9, 2008 SDF Health Search

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On October 9, 2008 in Mountain View at the Microsoft campus, SDForum’s Search SIG hosted “The Search for Better Health: Empowering Consumer Health”. Matthew Holt of The Health Care Blog moderated panelists Don Chennavasin of Yahoo, John Emerson of Healthline and Saumil Mehta of RightHealth/ Kosmix. They discussed their respective online health information services.

This was a preview of the Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco the next week. Most consumers use search engines and widgets to find relevant medical information to make treatment decisions. Empowered patients not only develop healthier habits and control their own medical records but also ask doctors better questions.

Historically health care has been a physical transaction. Looking for information was not consumer friendly. Most patient illnesses fall into well-known categories like diabetes or arthritis but there is a long tail of more exotic diseases that will not show up on a simple Google search. One type of treatment may not work for all people. To find information tailored to individual needs you need customized search.

Saumil Mehta of RightHealth/ Kosmix demonstrated his service that has an ad supported mix of algorithmically constructed topic pages for health and topics edited by humans. It acts like a medical librarian helping users find information. For example, breast cancer has an opening topic page with a basic explanation that then goes into more specific topics from trusted sources like the Mayo Clinic that is not limited to “walled gardens”. While much content is doctor reviewed, there are no guarantees. They also include links to patient support groups acting as social networking sites.

John Emerson of Healthline wants to deliver health information content and ads through intelligent navigation. It is the largest consumer health taxonomy online. They work with Ask.com to deliver Smart Answers and other search companies. They cover everything from diagnosis and treatment to recovery. They want to go deep so it can help patients and professionals. Patients can combine symptoms and narrow down the possible causes. Nurses and paramedics use it to prompt their memories. Ads show up based the symptoms searched for. He sees huge opportunities for personalized search in a secure environment.

Don Chennavasin of Yahoo said search terms do not always reveal intent. When someone types in “breast cancer” do they want symptoms or treatment? Understanding the nature of a query is key. The challenge to privacy is to balance collecting patient health information to give useful information. Yahoo does not keep track of personal information so there will not be relevant ads. This is different than when someone is shopping for a camera and an ad for a camera pops up.

The most fascinating features are drug interaction results. Patients can type in all their drugs and see what the witche’s brew might result. Like most search issues, ads are the elephant in the room. All of these services are ad supported. How will patients know they are not being steered by some drug company? Would universal access to health care or regulation on drug advertising affect the revenue models of health search? Will the search for revenue drive the search for health?


Copyright 2008 DJ Cline All rights reserved.