Healia: A cool new health care search engine

Healia: A cool new health care search engine

Google’s been receiving a lot of attention lately with hints that it may announce a new health care offering tomorrow. As I’ve written before, I think Google has enough information on us already and I’m wary of using their services for health care.

Meanwhile, a startup company called Healia launched a health care search engine yesterday. I spoke with the company’s Founder and CEO, Tom Eng today to learn more about it. He told me they’ve been working on the technology for the past four years, with SBIR funding from the National Cancer Institute. The goal was to help patients identify high quality information and to find documents personalized to their needs.

Eng claims three main sources of differentiation for Healia:

  1. The site suggests medical vocabulary to help users choose relevant search terms and narrow or broaden their search. Type in “stomach ache,” for example and in addition to showing results for that term, Healia suggests “abdominal pain” and “gastrointestinal diseases” as more general terms, and “dyspepsia” as more specific. Clicking on any of those choices brings up a refined search.
  2. Healia uses a proprietary algorithm to identify high quality pages. Healia crawls the web and evaluates quality using a set of surrogate markers. As Eng told me, “it’s a hard line to straddle” between high quality and relevance. Set the quality bar too high and it will screen out all the relevant articles. Healia has filed for patents related to the algorithm.
  3. The user can personalize the search. After entering a search term, a sidebar appears on the results screen, allowing the user to limit the results based on demographics (e.g., for professionals/consumers, males or females, kids/teens/seniors, and ethnicity). The user can also limit the results to those that meet certain criteria such as fast loading, interactive tools, audio or video.

There’s a free service that will be supported by advertising. The company has also licensed their service to organizations such as AARP and the VA. In the case of the VA, Healia will be integrated with a personal health record (PHR) to make it easier for patients to learn more about their conditions, medications, and so on. Healia can integrate with customers’ content, displaying for example side-by-side searches of the general web and the customer site.

Healia’s competitors include general search engines like Google, and specialized health players like Kosmix and Healthline. I’ve played around a bit with Healia today and I quite like it. A high proportion of the pages indexed are relevant and useful. Compared to its competitors, Healia picks up a greater proportion of objective sites and fewer that are selling products. This is especially true for natural products and supplements. I did find that the site wasn’t quite as fast as Google, although it wasn’t particularly sluggish.

Eng stressed that Healia is in Beta mode and that the company is seeking feedback. The site has a feedback tab on its home page and there is an opportunity to provide feedback on every search. Have a look, and let Healia know what you think.

May 9, 2006

4 thoughts on “Healia: A cool new health care search engine”

  1. Healia looks good for finding articles on particular diseases. I like the way it comes back asking for you to choose among different levels of generality and asking about other similar-sounding clusters you may have meant.

    I tried Healia on the more difficult task of diagnosis. I fed in the two terms (kyphosis and macrocephaly) that we use for the simple case in the demo video for our SimulConsult Neurological Syndromes software.

    The terms happen to be ones used only in medicine, so there is little contamination of the search results by non-medical sites. Healia does a decent job:

    getting one of the relevant diseases in the list of possibilities. Google does about the same, though it does such a comprehensive search that its top two entries refer to our demo case:


    Neither search engine is anywhere near as helpful as our diagnostic software in this test of diagnosis, despite the fact that our demo case is pretty simple. It is only fair to point out that neither Healia nor Google make the claim that their service is useful for diagnosis. However, it is worth running such comparisons to get a sense of situations in which one should use search engines and situations in which one should use diagnostic software.

    Increasingly, medical education is including training about variety of software tools. Healia and Google seem good for finding information about a particular disease, but for assistance with diagnosis it is worthwhile to use tools that are more suited for the task. Aside from producing a better list of diagnostic possibilities, such tools have additional features such as asking for additional findings that are likely to distinguish among likely diagnoses in a cost-effective manner and using the age of onset of various findings.

    As all these software niches get fleshed out there will be tremendous access to medical wisdom. It will be great if it can stay freely available.

  2. I am glad that people are finding Healia to be useful. I would like to emphasize that Healia (or any other search engine) should not be used for medical diagnosis. Healia is a health search engine that finds high quality and personalized results; it is intended to be used for educational purposes only. We welcome additional feedback so that we can continue to improve our search engine.

  3. SearchMedica.com

    For search results completely void of consumer clutter, try the specialty search engines at SearchMedica.com; SearchMedica Primary Care, Psychiatry and Oncology Hematology have launched thus far. These are built by doctors for doctors, advertising supported and therefore free to use. These clinical research tools connect physicians and other medical professionals to credible, medical Web sites and online journals specific to these specialties, with more set to launch in the future.

    SearchMedica.com indexes only authoritative medical information, approved for inclusion by medical editors and a physician editorial board. SearchMedica is more comprehensive than searchable article indexes and more specific, trustworthy and useful than broad, consumer-targeted search engines. With options for making searches as targeted as desired, SearchMedica is the perfect web search tool for busy healthcare providers across a range of specialties.

    Medical professionals pay nothing to use the specialty search engines. All SearchMedica search results are independent and unbiased. They contain well-known, credible journals, peer-reviewed research, and evidence-based articles written for practicing healthcare professionals. In addition to ranking search results according to relevance, SearchMedica also organizes results into categories such as practical articles and news, research reviews and editorials, evidence-based articles and meta-analyses, practice guidelines, clinical trials for patients, continuing medical education, and alternative-complementary medicine. Try it out at http://www.SearchMedica.com.

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