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Looking for credible health information on the Internet is getting much easier, if you know where and how to look for it.

While search technology has matured quite a bit over the past few years, we are still experiencing what some media insiders refer to as “crap overload.” Or, as Linda Holliday of Medical Broadcasting Company says, “We're building quite a big haystack on the Web.”

Finding the “needle” is often a difficult challenge.

It can be argued that health information seekers get a bigger benefit from search technology than most other vertical information segments. Two-thirds of all people in the US search the Internet before and after a visit to their physician according to a Nielsen/Net Ratings survey.

Almost a third of all respondents in the study said they visited a pharma site.

Google delivers a big haystack in which to find the “needle” but hasn't released a search site for healthcare. Meanwhile, newer sites like Kosmix.com and Healia.com claim to be more effective and efficient at searching for health information.

Healthline (www.healthline.com) appears to be one of the more well-rounded search portals. It does a good job of integrating content and health channels alongside its search feature. Healthline's special sauce, according to company President Dean Stephens, is its semantic taxonomy that was designed by physicians and medical informatics experts.

The challenge specialized search services need to solve is to educate people how to conduct better searches. More than 90% of people conducting searches don't go beyond the first two search page results. And, only 3% of searchers use quote marks to search an exact phrase. Finding that needle in the haystack isn't all that hard if you know how and where to look.

Dan McKillen is president of the HealthDay news service

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