Consumer Health Research on the Web

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)

FindZebra – rare disease search

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.

Mining web search histories for side effects of drugs

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.


Internet for Health Information

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 for medical research

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
“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.

Google’s symptom related search results

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 )

Demise of Google Health

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. ”

Medify for medical research

Medify: For when you need to become a medicine geek, Rafe Needleman, Webware (Sep 27)

Medify is a new medical information site that searches medical research studies. You’re encouraged to create an account in order to keep notes and share with the “community”. University crests adorn the top of the page – including the University of Toronto.

“Medify analyzes free-form text from abstracts of articles in medical journals, and lets you filter them by patient type (gender or age, for example). Charts show you which studies are most relevant for your group, and also which are newest. The graphical language of Medify’s charts is unique, but quickly learned. (See also Apixio, another startup that analyzes medical study data, but for medical professionals.)”

Google Health Closing

Google Shuts Down Health, Energy Services By Nancy Gohring, IDG News via PCWorld (Jun 24)
Two Google services did not work out – Google Health for collecting personal health information, and Google PowerMeter for monitoring electricity use. Both were available in the US.
“Google Health was designed to let people create and access a central repository for all of their health care information. It launched a beta of the service in mid-2008, about six months after Microsoft unveiled a similar offering called HealthVault. Skeptics wondered at the time if Google could secure the many partnerships it needed to make the project work, and whether users would entrust it with sensitive health data.”