Microsoft's Bing Offers Expanded Health Care Data

Microsoft has made health care-related queries on Bing, its search engine, more robust by offering key related topics and access to a summary of health resources in response to searches. In 2010, Microsoft apparently plans to refine its search engine's relevancy, and will likely expand its features as it seeks to compete against Google.

As part of Microsoft's broader refinement of Bing, its search engine, health-related searches have started drawing in more information from new partners and databases. Termed the "enhanced Bing Health search experience," queries on health topics now return data from multiple sources, structured into easy-to-scan tables.

As it seeks to gain an increased share of the search-engine market, Microsoft has been generally attempting to offer users content beyond the traditional "page of blue hyperlinks" that has largely defined online search since its inception. Its stitching-together of data from multiple sources not only applies to health queries, but also more everyday searches such as restaurants and concerts.

"Bing discovers a relevant document in its library of health resources and presents a smart summary related to the query," Alain Rappaport, a member of the Bing team, wrote in a Jan. 12 posting on the official Bing site explaining the health-related enhancements. "In addition, Bing uncovers key related topics by analyzing an index of medical sources and extracting meaningful data automatically."

Entering a query such as "Type 2 Diabetes," for example, will result in a list of related conditions, medications, and medical centers that treat that particular disease. Items from those lists, in turn, will offer new permutations of data; for example, clicking on a medical center will present not only links to its official site, but also Patient Ratings (taken from a Department of Health and Human Services database), Nearby Facilities, and the like.

Medications are also subject to the same sort of data-mining, displaying clickable details such as "What drug(s) may interact with it?" and "What side effects may I notice?" Bing will also include links to content partners.

In a meeting with eWEEK during the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a Microsoft spokesperson suggested that Bing would be undergoing a refinement process throughout the next year, with the search engine's engineers figuring out how to better stitch together relevant data from multiple sources in response to queries. Health care-related searches fell within that umbrella.

During his keynote address at CES, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested that Bing was becoming more robust and "not just trying to provide people with a list of links," adding: "We want to understand user intent and anticipate what users are really looking for."

In its bid to compete with Google, Bing steadily incorporated new rounds of features throughout the latter half of 2009. In addition to offering a more robust video page with integrated feeds from Hulu, MSN Video, ABC and other networks, Bing now features results from Wolfram Alpha, the computational engine that delivers a definitive numerical answer in response to a search query, and a beta version of Bing Maps with Streetside, a competitor to Google's Street View.

Microsoft may attempt to expand Bing's global footprint in 2010, although it faces a potentially steep uphill battle in that area. According to statistics firm Net Applications, Bing holds 3.27 percent of the worldwide search-engine market, just ahead of Chinese search engine Baidu at 2.81 percent but lagging behind Yahoo at 6.29 percent and Google at 85.34 percent.