Consumer Health Information Search Engine

An RN came by our library the other day looking for a particular piece of patient education information, and I found it very time consuming to pull up each appropriate site and search it. So time-consuming, in fact, that I was late for my appointment to meet with our hospital’s Director of Information Services. Can’t have that.

It didn’t occur to me until this evening, though, that a Google Custom Search Engine might be very useful in enabling the user to simultaneously search more than a hundred Consumer Healthcare/Patient Education sites recommended by the NLM and/or CAPHIS.

So I slapped one together that searches 134 URLs, and you can try it out here.

It is interesting to compare the search results of this CSE to those of Google Health Co-op. Here are the results of searching the CSE for “Ulcerative Colitis,” and here are the results of searching the Google Health Co-op for “Ulcerative Colitis” refined for Patient Information. The major difference, I think, is in what the CSE excludes. If we use the same search string in “regular” Google without the refinement for Patient Information, the fifth search result is from Wikipedia– far from authoritative.

Now I need to learn to use Google Marker and Refinement Labels in order to make it more powerful, but this seems like a good start.

Still, I really would like to be able to sort search results by something other than Google’s PageRank.

(Also, I need to think through the potential value of making this tool available to all clinical users at our hospital, and work out the best way to go about making it work for even those users who have restricted web access.)

Your opinions and suggestions would be sincerely appreciated- let me know what you think!

Posts on about the Google Custom Search Engine service:

2 thoughts on “Consumer Health Information Search Engine

  1. Hi David, I enjoy your blog a great deal. One day last week I met Google’s Craig Silverstein and he told be about Co-op just having been launched. I went home and created a Text Mining search ( What I created has about 120 URLs in it and I hope to add classification for it soon enough–I’m busy finishing my master’s thesis right now. The text mining engine I created has a strong health/bioinformatics/pharma bent, namely since my text mining training is rooted in biomedical, consumer health, and pharma applications.

    Please check it out, and, if you can recommend any collaborators for it, please send their names and emails along. If you would like to be a collaborator, that would be great as well. I’d like that very much.

    There’s little chance you can avoid PageRank if you use Google. Rather you should consider building your own search engine given your own quality criteria. Obviously the domain of expertise we share shows that PageRank won’t fit for numerous reasons.

    However, if you develop a comprehensive list of manually-selected URL strings that match domains containing only high quality consumer health info, and then tell Co-op to restrict searches to those domains, you’ll be able to minimize the problems that PageRank may introduce while capitalizing on what’s good about it in the consumer health domain.

  2. Hi Patrick-

    I went and checked out your Text Mining Search CSE, but it isn’t clear to me what it hopes to accomplish and I haven’t been able to find the list of 120 sURLs it searches. Any chance might elaborate on either of those points? What might be a good search string with which to test it?

    Adding refinement labels to my CSE would do a lot to help the user refine search results, but the result of such work would be a search engine a lot like,,,, or http://www.medstory. The only real difference would be in the restriction of my CSE to CAPHIS-recommended resources.

    I plan on using the CSE in my own library to help find consumer healthcare information, but I don’t think it is really the ideal solution. What I’d really like to see is CAPHIS building their own consumer healthcare information portal to compete with the commercial sites listed above.