Healthline: A Medical Search Engine


Jerri Collins

Healthline is a medical information search engine. Healthline is solely dedicated to finding medical information online, and it offers medically filtered results developed by trained medical personnel. It's really an excellent tool for finding all kinds of medical information. 

How Did Healthline Get Started? 

Healthline was founded by Dr. James Norman in 1999 as and was originally envisioned as an advertising-supported medical content website for consumers. In 2001, the business model was changed to focus on the healthcare enterprise market, and they built a search platform that would return contextually-relevant results using their medical taxonomy and proprietary visual HealthMaps.

Several years into their enterprise effort, the company decided to leverage its intellectual property to concentrate on a health-focused search engine that would be made available to consumers, and the result is the Healthline website you see today.

How Are Healthline's Results Filtered?

Healthline's search results are powered by a combination of open source and proprietary algorithms. Results are filtered in that they crawl and index about 62,000 websites that have been identified, by virtue of their organizational, governmental or educational affiliation, accreditation, and other means, as the excellent sources for relevant consumer health information.

Healthline is continually refining and updating this Health Web list, to ensure that they are optimizing the search experience for the health information seeker, and eliminating spam websites whose only intent is to game Google.

Starting in 1999, the company retained the services of over 1,100 physicians, specialists and medical editors to write and edit the original consumer-oriented content described earlier. This rich resource was used to develop a medical taxonomy to organize the content, a synonym database that would give them the ability to map everyday language to medical terminology, and their HealthMaps, visual representations of concepts associated with various diseases and conditions.

The Healthline search results page not only returns high quality, medically relevant results, but also provides navigational elements designed to help the user refine (or extend) his or her search query the HealthMaps, and the Broaden/Narrow and Related Topic search links. These navigational tools and the underlying information architecture designed by doctors, and maintained by medical informatics specialists, not by statistical query analysis enable them to offer a medically guided search experience, or a search experience that 1,100 doctors helped initiate.

Are Ads Mixed in With Search Results? 

Healthline does not allow paid inclusion in their search results. They may, from time to time, include content on their Health Channels, or other topically-focused resource pages, that is sponsored by an advertiser, but only if the content has been written and reviewed by physicians. 

Healthline licenses articles and images from A.D.A.M., an online health content provider, and where there is a relevant article matching the user's search query, they will present this as the first result because a) they know it is doctor-written and reviewed content and b) they can tell the user a bit more about the result, i.e., who wrote it, their affiliation and the date it was last reviewed (and identify it as content from A.D.A.M.).

User Registration

Users who register with Healthline can take advantage of several features that help them stay on top of health information and resources that are important to them and their families. Users have the ability to save any search result and give it tags to help sort and organize saved pages; there's also the ability to set up email news alerts on any health search query.

Public profiles can be created so that other users can learn about the reviewer's background and experiences, and if the reviewer chooses to, allow other members to make contact via either a personal or anonymous email address.

Healthline also offers two bookmarklet tools: one to allow a user to search Healthline from any web page (highlight a word or phrase in an online J.A.M.A. article, for example, and select the Healthline Search from Anywhere tool in your Favorite Links folder to launch a search) or to save and tag any web page into a Healthline account. This latter bookmarklet requires that the user be a member to save a page from anywhere.

What Are HealthMaps?

HealthMaps were developed by physicians to provide concept-based information in a map format to help the user navigate through the many different aspects of a disease or condition. By typing in a single, often very broad search query (e.g., "breast cancer"), the user can then see a variety of related topics and sub-topics associated with the original query, and click on a HealthMap node to continue the discovery process.

The search results are then refreshed based on the particular node that was selected (e.g., breast cancer incisional biopsy). In many cases, the user may need only type in one search query, and then continue the search and discovery process by clicking on map nodes and query refinement links.

Why Use Healthline? 

  • Good search results: They focus on searching and returning results from only high-quality health and healthcare websites.
  • Breadth of medical knowledge: They have an extensive medical domain expertise; from the navigation tools, like HealthMaps, to their terminology database.
  • User search journey: Intuitive and easy-to-use interface helps navigate through very complex health conditions and enable a quicker path from search to discovery.
  • Channels: Healthline's topically focused Health Channels give another type of user, the browser, the ability to find information and have it presented in context, complete with HealthMaps, related articles, news and suggested query terms to launch a search for more information.
  • Tools: Member tools, like Healthline Save from Anywhere and Healthline Search from Anywhere, and the ability to build community and share (and learn from others) experiences via ratings and reviews.