Hippocrates, the father of medicine, has got reinvented in a search of the Web that promises to give the most current medical information quickly.

Paromita Pain

LOOKING for medical information on the Internet? `Hippocrates' will help make sure that you, the searcher, get the most reliable data quickly.

The father of medicine has got reinvented in a new avatar in the Hippocrates medical search that can be downloaded free from both ChennaiOnline.com and Mamma.com (http://mamma.com/). There is no need to download or install any software onto a user's computer.

"The Hippocrates search results are aimed at the lay person who would like to obtain reliable medical information that they can understand from multiple sources on the Internet," says Sumithra Jagannath, founder, CloserLook, the company that developed the product.

Sumithra early on recognised that the Web was growing at a rapid phase and dynamic content from databases was being published on public sites.

However, this dynamic content was invisible to the existing search engines and hence this portion of the Web came to be called the `Invisible or Deep Web.'

She estimated that the Deep Web would see a dramatic increase in content in the next five years and there would be a strong need for the next generation of search engines to search this content.

In 1998, she developed the first version of the CloserLook search for the Deep Web, which was pilot-tested at the Quebec Health Ministry.

Hippocrates was born out of the attempt to harness the power of CloserLook Invisible Websearch technology to build search applications for consumers. It was designed and a pilot version implemented in North America.

For the past year, CloserLook has been working with ChennaiOnline under an agreement. ChennaiOnline employees initially began to maintain applications and now much of the development and testing is also being done under this agreement.

Fresh data, and fast

Hippocrates claims to return results from reputable and reliable sources on the Web with the results organised into a report that is easy to understand and assimilate without any broken links. This saves time by returning a complete report with links rather than a mere list of Web sites to browse.

Hippocrates is a `vertical' topic-based search focused on health topics unlike search engines, which are for general purpose searching on all topics.

"With other search engines, you get a list of URLs and then have to go into each site to see if it has the information you require. With Hippocrates, you get a complete report on the medical keyword from trusted sources such as the Mayo Clinic and the National Library of Medicine, so you do not have to do any additional manual research.

The search results are not previously cached or stored. They are obtained directly from the sources when a user requests a search. So no more dead-links, old or irrelevant information," says Sumithra.

A brief description and definition of the term as well as the causes, symptoms and treatments available for the medical condition are got in the search results, giving the user a complete report on each medical term.

Those looking for homeopathy and other medicals streams won't be disappointed since alternative medicine and natural remedy sources have been included. But the best thing probably is that Hippocrates includes a search on most prescription and off-the-shelf medications.

"Hippocrates provides the most up-to-date and current information on the topics searched. Information provided by search engines today is captured and stored in databases several days, weeks or months in advance and hence ages very quickly.

Hippocrates goes directly to the source of the information at the moment of a user requesting a search so that the most current information can be obtained," says Sumithra.

Healthfully yours!

A key challenge in building the product was fast response time for immediate searching. "We had to develop a lot of programming logic to improve the search speed so that the speed would be closer to what consumers are used to from traditional search engines.

Besides that, designing business logic to organise the results into useful information for the user also took multiple layouts and designs to make the reports user-friendly and easy to understand. They had to be pleasing, simple and yet permitting in-depth information," says Sumithra.

What do users have to say? "I like the organisation into definition/cause/FAQs. It's quite a novel way to view search results," says a doctor based in Canada. For families, it is a handy guide in time of emergencies.

"We use medical searches on Google every time the kids come down with something so that we can learn more about the kind of infection they have.

The search results from Hippocrates look good because I could find separate topics on adults and kids with just one search," says a mother of two.

CloserLook licenses Hippocrates to various organisations.

"The technology can be customised with added features and sources. Each portal or Web site can incorporate the results into the look-and-feel of their site," says Sumithra, who is an alumnus of Holy Angels convent, Chennai.

paromita@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated January 16, 2006)
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