West Shell, CEO of Healthline is turning to the semantic web to compete with internet health giants like WebMD. Wade Roush reports, “Shell says 170 million Americans turn to the Internet every month for help managing their health. And Healthline, the 130-employee company he’s been leading since 2005, captures a huge portion of them: roughly 100 million per month, spread across the many Web properties, such as Yahoo Health, AARP.com, and DoctorOz.com, that use the company’s search tools and medical content. It’s one of the three largest U.S. providers of consumer health information on the Web, the others being WebMD and Everyday Health.”

Roush continues, “What sets Healthline apart from its competitors, according to Shell, is its focus on technology. Healthline’s core asset is a health-specific search engine programmed with a vast set of categories and definitions—a ‘semantic taxonomy,’ to use the search industry term. The taxonomy helps consumers find the information they need, even if they don’t know the right keywords to use. To take a simple example, the Healthline taxonomy knows that ‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’ and ‘amyotrophic lateral sclerosis’ are the same thing, or that ‘brittle bone disease’ is technically known as ‘osteogenesis imperfecta.’”

Shell commented, “Doctors speak in Latin, insurance companies speak in billing codes, and patients speak in English… These terminologies are incredibly difficult. But at the end of the day, the reason we beat Google and Microsoft and Yahoo in terms of being able to search health information and deliver it is that it’s the most complex information retrieval problem there is. Over half of the staff here are engineers, medical informatics specialists, doctors, pharmacologists, and nurses. That’s our unfair advantage.”

Read more of Roush’s report here.

Image: Courtesy Healthline