Google Health Search

There is no shame today in “googling” a health condition – results are often from the top medical sites – and this is about to get better.

Google To Double The Number Of Health Conditions In Search Results Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Land (Sept 3).

Google announced they are more than doubling their health conditions database, so that when you search for health or medical topics in Google, you are more likely to find factual medical data on that condition.

I checked congestive heart failure on and was impressed at the quality of results from US and Canadian sites in the three pages. But – searchers still need to be careful to distinguish the authoritative sites from the product sites, and to thoroughly search the authoritative ones..

How private are health queries?

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 health answers

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.”

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 )