The Internet has given rise to a better informed medical consumer no longer content with a doctor’s second opinion, but quick to find a third, fourth and fifth view with a simple search of the Web.
On Monday, Healthline, a San Francisco based dot-com survivor, will unveil a broad consumer health search system that offers “medically guided” search results and news while insulating users from some of the dangers of self-diagnosis.
The consumer health Web search system seeks to help users target relevant, authoritative medical information in ways not possible on generic sites such as Google, where a search for “cancer” turns up between 321 million and 335 million links.
Researchers at the Pew Internet and American Life Project estimate that half of U.S. adults — more than 100 million people — are “health information seekers” and that 79 percent of Web users had sought out health information online in 2004.
“A greater number of people now go online to search for health information than go to the doctor everyday,” West Shell, Healthline’s chairman and CEO, said in an interview.
Healthline strikes a balance between general-purpose search sites such as Yahoo, Microsoft’s MSN, America Online , AskJeeves and Google and health information sites such as WebMD, Choice Media, MayoClinic, eMedicine and iVillage’s Health site.
Key-word categorization system
Healthline helps consumers wade through the Internet’s wasteland of unfiltered technical information by using a categorization system of 800,000 medical terms and synonyms.
A search for “breast cancer” distinguishes treatments, support groups and symptoms. “Heart attack” turns up “myocardial infarction,” the technical term for the concept.
The site features 3,000 maps of different diseases and conditions that describe the treatment process for each ailment. The maps give structure to the random information turned up by simple searching the site.
“Healthline helps solve the difficult problem of trying to understand the everyday language that consumers use to describe sophisticated medical problems,” Shell said.
Visitors to Healthline’s site at http://www.healthline.com are greeted with a centrally placed search box to search for either Web health data or the latest medical news. The most popular health searches are featured under the search box.
Healthline offers 200 topical health channels on subjects ranging from Alzheimer’s to diabetes to pregnancy. It focuses on English-language sources and is aimed at U.S. consumers.
“Healthline helps the pro-active health care consumer to identify the type of information they are reading and the authority of that source,” Jim Dougherty, president of Arcus Group, a medical consulting group and former deputy director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Research Center in New York.
Healthline was founded as YourDoctor.com in 1999. It is backed by VantagePoint Venture Partners of San Bruno, California and Connecticut-based JHK Investments. It has received $24 million in funding to date, executives said.
YourDoctor set out to create a consumer health media site based on the work of 1,100 doctors, who created a corpus of qualified medical information, but had trouble developing a business model to support it.
Healthline is advertising supported, using Google’s paid search system. It draws news from Topix.net.