Medstory: Not even close.

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Well, a number of other bibliobloggers are pointing out MedStory, and I was going to avoid doing the same until I tried it.

I can’t take seriously any health information vortal that includes Wikipedia and returns a Wikipedia page as the top result for my search on pseudomembranous colitis AHEAD of MedlinePlus.

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It is far from a complete analysis of a health vortal to run one search and draw assumptions based on the top few results, but including a wikipedia result as the first result indicates a critical failure of those who created to vortal to understand what is important in the selection of consumer healthcare information.

9 thoughts on “Medstory: Not even close.

  1. Pingback: davidrothman.net » Blog Archive » Microsoft to Acquire Medstory

  2. Maybe it found the wikipedia result because it actually has good information on the topic. Maybe the wikipedia result was authored by the expert in this particular field, and hence Medstory’s AI engine ranked that content accordingly.

    It’s pretty clear that Medstory’s results on any medical query are far superior to anything delivered by any other engine. And the User Interface it uses to present those results is genius. Suddenly all of those hundreds of thousands of results “below the fold” are not just clearly visible in categories and sub-categories, Medstory automatically generates the queries to the area you are interested in.

    Let’s hope MSFT knows what they have here.

  3. Hi John-

    Librarians don’t generally consider ANY information as “good” without knowing the credentials of the author of the information. This is especially true with medical information.

    Anyone could log in to Wikipedia and change the information in this entry to something simply wrong or even dangerous. That information might, in turn, be acted upon before it is corrected.

    The information contained in that particular Wikipedia entry MIGHT be good (at a particular moment), but because there is no authorship, no peer review, and no authority, no responsible clinical professional or medical librarian would recommend it to an information seeker. The very fact that Medstory points users towards Wikipedia indicates a critical ignorance of what defines good health information.

    “It’s pretty clear that Medstory’s results on any medical query are far superior to anything delivered by any other engine.”

    That’s a pretty sweeping and completely unsupportable assertion. I’d argue that both MedlinePlus and this custom search engine are both far superior to Medstory because they only search resources that have been reviewed by the Medical Library Association or the National Library of Medicine, organizations expert in the evaluation of medical information.

  4. Well, I think we would do well to look at the actual results the search engines deliver before we call something unsupportable.

    For example, let’s take your original query of pseudomembranous colitis.

    In Medstory, the first result is in fact a Wikipedia entry, starting with the following remarkably cogent and accurate definition:

    “Pseudomembranous colitis is an infection of the colon often, but not always, caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile. Still, the expression “C. diff colitis” is used almost interchangeably with the more proper term of pseudomembranous colitis. The illness is characterized by offensive-smelling diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. It can be severe, causing toxic megacolon, and even fatal.”

    Now let’s do the same seach on your preferred engine MedlinePlus.gov. All that is returned is a page of links, headed by the first link “Diarrhea.” It doesn’t tell you anything about pseudomembranous colitis, and it certainly doesn’t tell you it can kill you.

    So what is supportable I guess in this search, is that Medstory’s results found better information than did Medline (and I haven’t even gone into how the information is laid out). I’m sure the information is on MedlinePlus somewhere, but I think I would advise MedlinePlus to not just peer review their content but peer review their search!

  5. What I call unsupportable is your assertion that “Medstory’s results on any medical query are far superior to anything delivered by any other engine.” You’re entitled to your opinion, but until you support it with a qualitative analysis, it is only an opinion. So far, you’ve only critiqued MedlinePlus’ search interface (which I agree needs and is getting an upgrade)- but haven’t provided a any support for why you believe Medstory’s info is superior. And we’re talking primarily, as defined by your own comments, about quality of information- not interface design.

    Meanwhile, the general view of health information professionals is that information produced by anonymous writers and no peer review process can’t be relied upon. You may have seen recent news that Wikipedia is going to start credentialing authors. Medical Wikis like GANFYD, PubDrug, and AskDrWiki do this, too. They do it because they know that an open Wiki of health information has no authority- and authority is essential in medical information.

    You’re again describing the Wikipedia information as good based on your individual evaluation. I don’t know you or your background- if you’re a physician or some other sort of health care professional, you might be qualified to determine for yourself if the information (as it exists right now) is good. That doesn’t mean it’ll be good or accurate in 20 minutes.

    But more importantly, most people searching for health information online are NOT health care professionals and cannot judge for themselves if the information is reliable. This is why no responsible health care professional or medical librarian will refer consumers to health care information in Wikipedia.

    If your only criticism of MedlinePlus is that one has to click on an additional link in order to get to the information, I honestly don’t know what to tell you, but it certainly doesn’t indicate that Medstory found “better” information. The medical encyclopedia hit in MedlinePlus for pseudomembranous colitis is clear, concise, and written in a way that the average seeker of healthcare information can clearly understand.

    Information indexed at MedlinePlus has been written by healthcare professionals, peer-reviewed, and vetted by the world’s leading medical library. If you don’t grasp why that makes it preferable to Wikipedia, I’m certainly not going to be able to convince you here.

  6. I’m not cricticising MedlinePlus because you have to “click another link.” I’m criticizing it because when you type in
    pseudomembranous colitis you literally get NO INFORMATION on pseudomembranous colitis. You get links to diarrhea, clinical trials for diarrhea, lots of info on Crone’s disease, but sadly, there is no “link to click” for pseudomembranous colitis.

    The link you reference is ok. Too bad it doesn’t come up when you type pseudomembranous colitis! Hopefully the “upgrade” you await at MedlinePlus to fix their awful search and UI is MedlinePlus licensing MedStory!

  7. On the contrary, John- that link DOES appear. Scroll down the page.

    Again, you’re choosing to ignore my point. The national library of medicine will NOT refer users to any resource with no authority. As long as Medstory’s search results include Wikipedia, health information professionals will continue to dismiss it as unreliable and advise users against using it.

    I’m curious, John- what’s your interest in Medstory? Are you perhaps an investor or employee? Are you a health care professional?

  8. Oh, now I see it. It is the 21st link on the page! How did I ever miss that!

    I wasn’t ignoring your point, I was just trying to use a site that you said would provide great data that the national library of medicine would deem acceptable. Unfortuantely that site makes it next to impossible to find the info on the query. This is exactly the problem Medstory is solving. By the way, Medline is the 3 result on the Medstory, and acutally does return the useful page on the Medline site, not the one Medline returns.

    I work at a different search engine company and have been very impressed with what these guys are doing. I wish we had bought them. And even better, I wish I had invested in them 🙂

  9. There’s our disconnect, John. You’re looking at it from the perspective of an expert in search, I’m looking at it from the perspective of someone concerned about the quality of health information.

    I agree that Medstory’s search and interface is excellent- it is some of the CONTENT it searches that is unforgivably craptacular.