Symptom Search

It’s hard to believe it’s been a little over four months since my last post. So much has happened personally and professionally during that time… though as I reflect back on it now as I sit down to write this post, it seems little more than a blur.

Nonetheless, I’m very excited to share a bit of news about a new development at Healthline. As you all know, I’ve done my best to not use buzzhit! as a platform exclusively for Healthline (ie, not mentioning the launch of our Health Blogs, HealthLinks, our deal with USNews & World Report and others, etc)… but on this occasion, I think it’s worth a few words…

Healthline has just released a new product named Symptom Search. Very simply, this is the most comprehensive (and I personally would argue, relevant) consumer symptom research tool on the web today. More importantly, it’s data driven, with a search interface, which means it’s quick and easy to use for anyone that knows how to search (and thankfully, that’s pretty much everyone).

Using Symptom Search is easy. Simply start typing in your symptom and Symptom Search will start recommending symptoms that match. Add one and get results. Add another, and narrow your results. (Extra cool — once you’ve added your first symptom, you can use the Add Related Symptoms feature, which automatically calculates the most likely co-occuring symptoms based on those you’ve added so far.)

The results are ranked based on CDC data, data mining and input from our team of clinicians. Results are actually articles, so you can read further about the disease and conditions that might be causing your symptoms. And of course, each of those result articles include HealthLinks, which means you can dig deeper into any of the concepts you might not understand within the article.

One of the things I’m particularly pleased with is how well the feature integrates with our site, in particular our core web SERP. Here’s an example for the symptom wheezing. Yes, like every other search engine on the planet, we can give you a list of articles about wheezing; but now, we can give you clinical guidance based on actual evidence (vs., say, statistical clustering of a web corpus) on what might be causing your wheezing.

Symptoms are a huge area of interest for health consumers… but this only one type of vertical search within the vertical of Health that we can improve upon. I can’t wait to share more with you throughout the remainder of 2007!

(One quick sad note; Symptom Search launches in beta without full support for Mac OS X, so please test it on a Windoze platform. And yes, we do plan on fully supporting the Mac. )

Press release follows for those who might be interested in a more detailed walkthrough of features and what not.

Updated with early coverage:


First “Search-driven” Symptom Tool Gives Consumers the Ability to Research
the Most Comprehensive List of Symptoms and Possible Causes Currently Available

SAN FRANCISCO – February 13, 2007 – Healthline Networks (, the leading provider of intelligent health information services, today unveiled Symptom Search, the first search-driven symptom exploration tool. Symptom Search is the only Internet symptom tool to use a semantic medical taxonomy – a relational database of over 1 million diseases, symptoms and their synonyms – to analyze queries and produce ranked results. The latest extension of Healthline’s Medically Guided Search™ platform, Symptom Search provides consumers with more relevant, accurate, and faster results than competing symptom research products.

Symptom Search includes My Symptoms List™, an entirely new way for consumers to create a personalized combination of symptoms to refine their search results and narrow the list of possible causes. Healthline then ranks Symptom Search results using proprietary search algorithms that incorporate five years of current and historical Centers for Disease Control (CDC) incidence data, input from multiple authoritative medical reference libraries, and oversight from Healthline’s team of doctors and nurses. This data analysis, and thousands of hours of clinician review, ensures that the SymptomRank™ search algorithms cover the broadest range of conditions with the greatest accuracy.

“As a physician and heavy Internet user, I know that my patients are increasingly using the Web to research symptoms – it’s a great way, in the privacy of your own home, to explore topics you think you may want to talk to your doctor about,” said Enoch Choi, M.D., a family practice physician based in Palo Alto, Calif. “Healthline’s Symptom Search makes this task quicker and more relevant than ever before – and empowers patients to have better doctor interactions.”

Many existing consumer symptom research tools use static “interview” formats that do not have the flexibility, breadth of information, or relevance of a search-driven resource. As a result, current symptom checkers offer a limited ability to combine symptoms and can only research one-tenth the number of symptoms and one-fifth the number of possible causes currently covered by Healthline’s Symptom Search product. Symptom Search is fully integrated into, giving health information seekers the ability to research their condition through authoritative, doctor-reviewed articles from the world’s foremost medical information publishers.

Other features and benefits of Symptom Search include:

· GUIDED RESEARCH: The Symptom Search “type-ahead” feature allows users to start with the general terms that are frequently top of mind and suggests additional terms to help quickly narrow their search for symptoms. For example, if a user begins to type in “c-o-u-g-h,” they will not only see “cough,” but a medically-reviewed list of 20 other types of coughs such as painful cough, hacking cough, night cough, and so on, to guide and refine the symptom search.

· SEARCH ON RELATED SYMPTOMS: The Related Symptoms feature recognizes user inputs, like “fever” and “muscle aches,” and suggests symptoms that frequently occur in health articles mapped to these symptoms – complete with definitions and illustrations.

· COMPREHENSIVENESS: Symptom Search covers more than 3,500 symptoms and 900 diseases – more than ten times the number of symptoms covered by WebMD, MayoClinic or any major consumer symptom research tool.

· INTERACTIVE, SEARCH DRIVEN APPROACH: To offer the ability to explore possible causes and learn as they go, Symptom Search allows consumers to enter any combination of symptoms they choose. They can also quickly remove a symptom or clear their Symptom List to start again. Other tools don’t allow for the same experimentation and exploration; typically, symptom combinations are very limited, if they are available at all.

· QUALITY/CONFIDENCE: In order to design the best search algorithms and provide consumers with relevant, high quality results, Healthline analyzed raw data from multiple years of CDC surveys to rank the likelihood that a health condition would be detected. This is unique among both clinical and consumer symptom research resources.

“Symptom Search offers a much more interactive, useful way for individuals to research health concerns, helping prepare them for conversations with their physicians,” said Paul Auerbach, M.D., clinical professor of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University and chair of Healthline’s Medical Advisory Board. “Through the unmatched breadth of data to which it has access, Symptom Search provides consumers with a comprehensive tool that helps them more quickly navigate through the discovery process, whether they are dealing with a potential medical emergency or simply trying to distinguish between influenza and viral gastroenteritis.”

About Healthline

Healthline Networks offers an innovative approach to meeting the needs of today’s health information seeker. The company’s unique consumer healthcare taxonomy, begun in 1999 in collaboration with 1,100 medical specialists, powers a suite of intelligent health search, navigation and content services. Combining advanced search technology with deep medical expertise, Healthline and its business partners – a network of trusted destination sites that include publishers, portals, search engines, employers and health plans – help consumers navigate the complex world of healthcare information, empowering them to make more confident, informed decisions. Headquartered in San Francisco, Healthline is backed by VantagePoint Venture Partners, Reed Elsevier Ventures, Mitsui & Co., Ltd., and JHK Investments, LLC.

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One comment on “Symptom Search
  1. tim says:


    Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment about the new Healthline Symptom Search.

    I took a quick look yesterday and it looks pretty cool – I’ll come back to it when I have some additional time and give it a more thorough test drive.

    Thanks again,