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Visual Health Search

stephens-dean
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Do you remember the film “Fantastic Voyage” with Raquel Welch? She and her companions were miniaturized and inserted into a scientist’s comatose body to remove a deadly brain clot. 

An arteriovenous fistula forces them to detour through the heart where they had to induce a temporary cardiac arrest and replenish their supply of oxygen in the alveoli of the lungs. (Credit here to WikiPedia). The animation was terrific and you felt you were indeed inside the human body. That was in 1966.  

Advance to the year 2011 and this movie set is becoming realized in our daily life as “visual search.” In the world of health, both Google and Healthline have embarked on this mission. (See Jonathan Allen’s article on The Human Body Visual Search Engineuniversal-health-search

Is visual search a replacement for text-based search that’s part of our daily life today?  This is unclear, but I believe consumers and professionals will embrace a visual-based search paradigm using a mouse or just the finger to navigate a topic’s complexity.

Why is Visual Search Transformative?

The following scenario might seem familiar:

You develop a strange pain or symptom and, eager to discover what it is, you jump on the Internet to get some answers. Once you type in your symptoms or possible condition, you are met with a slew of information, much of it very broad and, in many cases, made more confusing by medical terminology.Now you’re not sure whether it’s a life threatening illness or simply nothing at all. Instead of answers and peace of mind, you end up more confused and, most likely, more worried than you were when you began.

If this is familiar, you aren't alone — this is a common experience when it comes to searching for health-related information on the Internet. 

Now picture the same scenario but, instead of typing search words into a browser you use your computer, mobile, or tablet device to call up a 3D image of the human body. You point to the area where you’re feeling pain and immediately a variety of highly targeted information is displayed in easy to understand language including symptoms, possible diagnosis, treatments, and emergency situations.

Now, armed with the answers you need, you’re able to make an informed decision about whether or not to see a doctor. Sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? 

Fortunately, the latter of these two scenarios is becoming reality right now.

Searching the Human Body

Google recently launched Google Body Browser, an interactive application that allows users to view the body in layered 3D. The body can be turned, manipulated, and literally “dissected” down to the vascular level to see how its functions work and connect. This kind of detailed information gives users access to the human body that’s never been available before and goes a long way in promoting a level of understanding that can help people make better informed decisions about their health.

Healthline Networks has also embraced this new trend in visual search with the launch of Healthline BodyMaps, a new 3D visual search tool developed in partnership with GE healthymagination and Visible Productions. This new tool layers search on top of a 3D anatomical model, and allows people to navigate male and female anatomy, view systems, and organs and explore how the body works.

It transforms the body into a rich learning platform with medically guided search capabilities and links to relevant information.  This interactive experience serves up high quality 3D images and offers users nearly 1,000 different views of the body as well as simplified and easy to understand search terms.

Interestingly enough, such a search tool may actually convert physicians from being frustrated by consumer use of the Internet for health information into advocates. As many of us have experienced, as patients entering a doctor’s office armed with a wealth of “facts” we found on the Internet, we are scolded. This can certainly lead to problems in patient/caregiver communication.  

However, with the emergence of new technologies like 3D visual search that offers easy-to-understand and highly targeted information, patients can now become better informed with regard to their condition. 

Better yet, physicians and other care providers may embrace visual health search to improve professional / client communications.  Already physicians are embracing smartphones and tablets at an astonishing rate.  

The market is headed to where the ubiquitous doctor’s or patient’s clipboard will be replaced by the iPad or other digital tablet, filled with applications for improving workflow and accessing patient-specific information. We can envision doctors and nurses using anatomical images and animations in 3D to explain procedures, show the benefits of physical therapy, and even demonstrate the impact of weight gain or smoking on the patient’s health as they age five, 10, and then 20 years or more.

Visual search is transformative, and should go a long way in helping to improve the communication between doctor and patient.  And this will hopefully foster a new sense of partnership as the two parties work together to address health related concerns, improve healthy outcomes, and reduce medical errors and cost.


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