Very alarming report on how much data is “vacuumed” up about us from our searches. This article summarizes research by Tim Libert, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, on what happens with health queries.
Looking up Symptoms Online? These Companies are Tracking You, by Brian Merchant, Motherboard (Feb 23)
Here’s what’s happening in a bit greater detail: Let’s say you make a search for “herpes.” Plugging that query into a search engine will return a list of results. Chances are, whatever site you choose to click on next will send information not just to the server of the intended site—say, the Centers for Disease Control, which maintains the top search result from Google—but to companies that own the elements installed on the page
Enough to get us to change to a privacy-minded search engine such as DuckDuckGo.
Google will be adding “structured and curated health information” obtained from medical authorities (such as Mayo Clinic) into the Knowledge Graph side panels.
Google Introduces Rich Medical Content Into Knowledge Graph, Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land (Feb 10)
Of interest: 1 in 20 searches are health related.
Only in the US for now: “The rollout is for U.S. English, for the time being, on the Google app (Android and iOS) and for the PC. However Google plans to expand the number of conditions and later make the information available outside the US.”
A new and very welcome guide to seeking out healthcare information on the Internet. The author, Stephanie Ardito, describes the types of health questions people ask, and recommends several “reputable consumer medical information sites”. These include U.S. National Library of Medicine – Medline Plus, Mayo Clinic, Medical Library Association. There is some valuable advice on when (and how) to take information to your doctor.
Seeking Consumer Health Information on the Internet By Stephanie C. Ardito, Online Searcher (July/August 2013 Issue)
Think you might have a rare disease? Check the new specialty search engine from Denmark — FindZebra. But read about it first in The Rare Disease Search Engine That Outperforms Google (Physics arXiv Blog, Mar 18).
The magic sauce in FindZebra is the index it uses to hunt for results. These guys have created this index by crawling a specially selected set of curated databases on rare diseases. These include the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man database, the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center and Orphanet.
They then use the open source information retrieval tool Indri to search this index via a website with a conventional search engine interface. The result is FindZebra.
Pharmaceutical companies can uncover previously undiscovered side effects of their drugs by miining public web search histories. Time Health and Family carried the story – How Our Web Searches Could Expose Drug Side Effects (by Alexandra Sifferlin, March 7)
A group of researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Microsoft Research used web search history of six million volunteers to uncover interactions between drugs.
To further validate their results, the research team also studied searchers surrounding 31 drug interactions known to cause hyperglycemia, and 31 safe drug interactions. They did find more hyperglycemia-related searches for people using the drugs known to cause problems, but also a high rate of hyperglycemia searches among patients using drugs with no known related side effects. The scientists believe that in order to decrease the amount of false-positive results, they need to combine data from other sources such as social media, medical records and patient support forums.
A new report, Health Online 2013, from PEW Internet shows how much the Internet is being used to get health information. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not higher.
“81% of U.S. adults use the internet and 59% say they have looked online for health information in the past year. 35% of U.S. adults say they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have.”
Searchers usually began at a search engine. Only a few sought a trusted health site – suggesting that there is much for people to learn about researching health matters online.
When asked to think about the last time they hunted for health or medical information, 77% of online health seekers say they began at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Another 13% say they began at a site that specializes in health information, like WebMD. Just 2% say they started their research at a more general site like Wikipedia and an additional 1% say they started at a social network site like Facebook.
Triage, Treat, Release: Finding Medical Information Using MedlinePlus and PubMed , by Sarah L. Elichko , Online (July / August 2012)
Interesting approach – apply triage when person comes looking for medical information.
“Your main triage decision is whether your patron needs patient-level or professional-level information, or both. Although I’ve approached the topic in terms of patient-level and professional-level information, I’m largely focusing on helping patrons who are not health professionals. Doctors, nurses, medical school professors, pharmaceutical industry researchers, and other healthcare professionals may be expert searchers of the subscription databases found through Ovid, EBSCOhost, ProQuest, or Thomson Reuters. However, since access to these databases varies and some high-quality health information is available for free, I’m restricting this discussion to those free sources of information.”
Scout Report has revisited Healthfinder.gov.
“The Healthfinder website was established as part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and is maintained by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. On the homepage, visitors will find a MyHealthFinder tool, which allows users to find health advice for a friend or a family member just by typing in their age and sex. The homepage also features the Health A-Z section, which is an encyclopedia of over 1600 health topics from a variety of trusted sources. ….. [KMG]” [Source ]
Browse the health category at the Internet Scout Project – possibly the last scholarly directory in the world that is well maintained.
Where’s It Hurt? After You Search For A Symptom, New Google Health Search Results Suggest Causes, Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land (Feb 13)
Google is trying to make health search better with symptom-related search results that are generated through algorithms.
However, new format doesn’t show in Toronto yet.
Also see Google skips WebMD, starts showing you medical conditions that match your symptoms, Drew Olanoff, The Next Web (Feb )
Google Health: First Failure of 2012, Robert L Mitchell, Computerworld / PCWorld (Nov 25)
Google Health, long ago, was a search vertical, then it became a “personal health record data aggregation service for consumers”. While people may trust their email messages to Google’s servers, they didn’t do so with their personal health information – or maybe it was the ads that put them off.
“Google anonymized users’ personal health data for purposes of data mining, and famously provided trending information on influenza outbreaks. But it also used the data as a mechanism to sell targeted advertising. And while advertisers didn’t know who was getting their messages, the idea of receiving highly targeted ads for specific health conditions cited in users’ personal health records struck many as creepy. ”