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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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