Patients must sort, evaluate online health advice


On O’Reilly Radar, Brian Ahier reviews various efforts to help patients sort through the reams of health information online and to come up with something useful and credible.

Ahier includes an in-depth look at The Decision Tree, a new book by Thomas Goetz. Goetz walks patients through a data-driven approach to health decisions, focusing on the three pillars of early action, data reliance and openness.

“One of the themes of the book is that by knowing and better understanding our genetic makeup, we can improve the medical decision making process.” Ahier’s article includes a decision-tree widget that asks the consumer a series of questions and offers some information.

Ahier also squeezes in a reference to Susannah Fox’s Pew Internet commentary on search engines and health information. According to Fox, “two-thirds of consumer health inquiries start at a general search engine” and that number is growing steadily. Given their importance in the health information market, Fox says, search engines have focused on ways to deliver the most reliable and relevant information to consumers.

Among other things, Fox addresses Google’s effort to “guide consumers to safe, trusted health websites,” including this insight from Roni Zeiger of Google Health on just how this is done:

For this health search feature we decided to offer users one source each from a governmental health agency, a medical institution, and a commercial site. We’ll study how users like these choices and continue to iterate. None of these sites is paying any money to Google to be included in the feature. Google is 100% committed to ranking websites objectively to provide the most relevant information to users. Websites cannot pay for higher search rank.

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