Category: Entrepreneurs

Here comes Healia

published date
September 18th, 2006 by

Here comes Healia

I devote a fair amount of space on this blog to whining about Google (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) . The company retains too much information about searchers and fundamentally is more interested in segmenting searchers for advertisers than in serving the end user. However, I have to admit they are damn good at what they do, and like most people I know, I use Google all the time despite my reservations.

I’ve mentioned before a new health care focused search engine, Healia. It’s been in beta for awhile; it’s now being launched officially. I like Healia’s philosophy:

Generic search engines provide good results for many general topic areas, but they often provide questionable or “harmful” results for many health-related topics. This is especially true for health topics that are commonly the subject of scams and questionable activities. For example, most search engines produce links to questionable results promoting or selling unproven products and services in response to searches within the areas of alternative medicine, nutrition, diet and weight loss, prescription drugs, and cures. Healia’s innovative technology ensures you get high quality results from the most trusted sources on the Web.

One of the nice things about Healia is the ability to filter searches. Type in a search term like “diabetes” and Healia will give you the opportunity to filter the results by criteria such as male/female, kids/teens/seniors, and to look for content of different types, e.g., basic/advanced reading, easy to scan/fast loading/interactive tools. Then there are a number of tabs containing results by type, such as symptoms, diagnosis/tests, and treatment.

I tried a search on diabetes, which should be a good term since there is so much published about the topic and the filtering function should be helpful. I decided to filter for males and basic reading. Results weren’t good. I clicked the Symptoms tab and found the following:

  • The first listing was a dead link for Advocate Health. I’m not even sure from the description that the result was relevant.
  • The second listing was to the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association discussion board, and contained a marginally relevant post related to gestational diabetes.

Moving on to the Diagnosis/Tests tab, results weren’t much better:

I did receive a warning that, “Selecting multiple filters may produce few results; deselect one or more filters to see more links.” But for a topic as broad as diabetes, that’s a fairly lame message. Plus the problem wasn’t the number of links but the quality of them. When I deselected the links I got more relevant results. Maybe that’s because there isn’t that much of a difference between men and women for diabetes, I don’t know. In any case it requires too much thinking and the results aren’t clearly better than Google’s.

I tried searching on Google for diabetes symptoms males and got better results. Google’s algorithm incorporated the “males” term but since it wasn’t terribly differentiating it didn’t throw off the results :

  • The first link was to MaleHealth: Diabetes, which talked about diabetes symptoms and had links to male health topics
  • There was a sponsored link to Diabetes Symptom Directory

I then went to Google Co-op, which I’ve maligned in the past, and typed in diabetes. It brought up a similar list of filters and topics as Healia, but it only lets you select one filter at a time (probably a good idea given the Healia experience). There’s also a long list of sponsored ads. I then selected symptoms and got relevant results and two relevant ads. Same deal when I selected tests/diagnosis.

I don’t doubt that there are other searches where Healia does a better job than Google. In particular, searches for topics like diet pills or Viagra –or any topic that generates a lot of spam– are likely to benefit from human moderation.

Unfortunately for Healia it will need to be not just at parity but clearly superior to Google to persuade people to use it. Considering that Google has a gaggle of unpaid consultants helping it improve its health care searches, that’s going to be tough. (You don’t see as many volunteers for Microsoft, helping them keep upstarts like Linux at bay!)

We really do need alternatives to Google for health care searches, and I hope Healia can hang in there. At a minimum, it will have to make the filters work better to win me over.

Help wanted

published date
September 15th, 2006 by

Help wanted

It’s been hard to find a replacement for outgoing National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Dr. David Brailer. An interim replacement already in government service is likely to be named soon. According to Health Data Management:

There are several reasons why it’s been a tough position to fill. First, it’s a political position, which means it requires a candidate with bargaining skills. And it’s likely to last only two years, until the end of President Bush’s term in office. In addition, “the position has to be politically screened,” Brailer noted. “That means there are fewer people interested in doing the job and so a smaller universe of candidates.”

Here’s what the unofficial job description would look like:

Cheerleader wanted! Must be excited about heading a department with no authority and a small, shrinking budget. Must toe the Bush Administration line. Low pay, long hours, heavy travel, no chance of advancement. Must have an MD and be an expert in technology.

A major issue complicating the search is the idea that the candidate needs to be a physician. All the people I’ve heard about being approached have been docs. It would make sense to me to open up the search to health care IT experts more broadly. The only real advantage of the MD is the credibility it brings in dealing with physicians. That can be challenging for a non-doc, but it’s a challenge that is surmounted regularly in the private sector.