Healthline have partnered with GE to launch 3D "BodyMaps" - a web based human body visualization tool that enables health information consumers to understand more about human anatomy.
This new tool is similar to Google's Body, but whereas the latter is more of a technology demonstration, Healthline BodyMaps is created to be more of an information resource. Paired with Healthline's database of health information, which is curated and semantically organized by medical practitioners, you could think of this tool as a sort of three dimensional school text book.
You can search by keyword for a particular organ and search suggestions as an aide memoir to particular medical names - for example, 'fibula'.
Definitions are in plain english and provide further information as to what disorders can affect a particular organ. Related videos explaining symptoms and conditions that can affect that order appear underneath.
Results also include advice on staying healthy, such as recipe suggestions, exercise recommendations and wellness tips, as well as information on related symptoms and related conditions. There are also shortcuts to services such as finding a doctor, checking your symptoms, and exploring treatments.
The 3D visualization functions as an exploded diagram so you can browse inner parts of the organ.
Google Body Vs Healthline BodyMaps
Both products are fairly similar in presentation, both being 3D exploded diagrams of the human body, but the approaches and organization of information is very different.
Google Body Browser allows you to select which 'systems' you want to see, so for example you can distinguish, separate or combine the endocrine system from the skeleton. It's good for getting a holistic view of how the body is made up and how many systems overlay each other. However, it offers little more information - which might not be surprising as it is an experimental product that is still in beta.
Google Body is also more of technology feat and an experiment in interfaces rather than a learning tool. To use it you need to download a set of open GL plug-ins and have an HTML5 capable browser (unsurprisingly, Chrome browsers can use it straightaway).
Overall Google Body looks like it has a lot of potential, but is lacking any useful information at this stage. As soon as reliable search results are included, it is easy to imagine that people will be comfortable with this type of navigation.
By contrast, Healthline BodyMaps is built in flash and so is accessible to most web users. Reliable health information is not an easy task to organize and as such, BodyMaps feels a little more clunky to use than Google Body.
However, what it lacks in a smooth navigation experience it makes up for with richer, more detailed graphics which are clearly labelled with short and long explanations. Cross sections of organs are also provided, which can be examined from any angle and individual parts can be highlighted to explore its physical make up and context in more detail.
Syndication and Context
In fact, exploring context and function of every organ is actually what really sets apart Healthline BodyMaps from Google Body.
Recent healthcare legislation has brought hundreds of thousands of new Americans into the healthcare system, and many online tools and resources are appearing to manage personal health and improve doctor/patient dialogue. However, one of the main problems with personal health research is that patients often take information out of context or cannot make sense of it holistically. Also, web users are not necessarily using the correct nomenclature or spelling to find what they are looking so there is even more room for error.
The graphical interface, exploded diagrams and other contextual information provided by BodyMaps could prove to be an empowering tool for individuals and families who want to be managing their own personal health more effectively.
Healthline BodyMaps will also appear as a kind of universal search results type feature, for searches related to symptoms and condition names. Currently it appears on Healthline Symptom Search and their main search engines and will shortly be displayed on searches on GE Healthymagination. Other partners within Healthline's network may also provde access to the tool for their users.
Does Information Trump Presentation?
As i have found with doctor finder and symptom search I imagine I might use this tool more often than I expected, because reliable medical information on the web really is so dire.
However, my only gripe with this tool is that, as an experienced web user who wants information fast, the BodyMaps experience feels too structured and not dynamic enough. I want to see tones of related information on every organ I click on and should not need to scroll or click on even more things to find related videos, symptoms or conditions.
There are too many mouse clicks to get the next dose of data and often they lead to new portals which slow the entire experience down - it should all come up at once and be prioritized automatically as is the case with the Healthline Symptom Search.
Healthline BodyMaps is designed more like an interactive feature than a search engine and I think that this design lets it down. I would rather, like Google Body, the body itself became the browsing mechanism and lots of related information appeared alongside it, rather than underneath or in non-obvious places such as a dynamic left hand column. If it treated every part of the anatomy as a search results page, I think it would be a more rewarding user experience.
There is no doubt that BodyMaps is a good looking interface with useful information, but right now, my ideal health information tool would be a mashup of the speedy Google Body interface, with Healthline's data set, symptom search and BodyMaps exploded diagrams.