Searching for Health Information

Health is one of the most searched topics on the web with 45% of people, across all age groups, using the internet to research health issues spanning topics like wellness and prevention, medical conditions, symptoms of illness, drugs and treatments.



However, looking for health information is a challenging task because the average consumer is not a medical expert. This makes it difficult to know what should be trusted as credible sources of health information, not to mention that the sheer volume of health information available online can be overwhelming. To help consumers make more informed decisions about personal care, Bing provides easy access to medical information from several trusted resources including The Mayo Clinic, The American Cancer Society, MD Consult, Gold Standard, the NIH’s NCCAM and MedlinePlus. This content offers relevant and credible information on symptoms, diagnoses and medical procedures, as well as issues related to drugs and substances, personal health and alternative medicine.



Consider a query like “diabetes.” First, our goal is to provide authoritative and educational content to consumers related to their search. We call out this authoritative content with a clear indicator of its source, such as the below example which appears as the top algorithmic result when searching on this term, noting that the content is provided by the Mayo Clinic.





How is this done? We use specially designed algorithms focused on health to search our library of authoritative sources. From these trusted sources Bing surfaces the most informative content for the given query. Clicking on this link will give you the full text of the article without ever having to leave the search page.






For that same query, you will also find a set of Quick Tabs in the left rail which you can use to refine your search further. In this case, the Quick Tabs are for articles, symptoms, diet, etc.




How is this done? For health queries, the Quick Tabs are determined by combining both common searches and medical knowledge – so the categories are defined both by what interests people the most and what is medically relevant to the subject matter.












For example, here is how the Quick Tabs adapt to different queries:


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Returning to “diabetes,” if you decide to click on one of the Quick Tabs, like “complications,” it will also display even more focused and relevant authoritative content to further inform or resolve your search.





Oftentimes, Bing provides what we call an “instant answer” when using the Quick Tabs. For example, choosing the Quick Tab for “test” will show a list of tests related to diabetes. This is done by a system that mines medical documents and infers procedures relevant to diabetes – another technique that uses medical knowledge in an automated way. By clicking on any of the terms you will focus the web search and quickly understand the term’s connection to diabetes. 





Let’s look at another query where the user wants to know about drug interactions for a prescription drug:




This list provides an instant answer for this topic – namely, that “Antacids” or “Red Yeast Rice,” amongst the other items listed, are likely to interact with Crestor.  You can then take this information to healthcare provider and discuss your best options for treatment.


There are two critical dimensions to the health search challenge:


1. Providing rich meaningful information to empower consumers and patients; and

2. Doing so by combining an array of new technologies to support search in knowledge-intensive domains.


Of course, we are just at the beginning of this journey. Keep watching the blog for more developments in this space.


Alain Rappaport, General Manager, Health Search, Search Technology Center, Silicon Valley