Diagnose This If You Can

2015 | European Conference on Information Retrieval
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An increasing amount of people seek health advice on the web using search engines; this poses challenging problems for current search technologies. In this paper we report an initial study of the effectiveness of current search engines in retrieving relevant information for diagnostic medical circumlocutory queries, i.e., queries that are issued by people seeking information about their health condition using a description of the symptoms they observes (e.g. hives all over body) rather than the medical term (e.g. urticaria). This type of queries frequently happens when people are unfamiliar with a domain or language and they are common among health information seekers attempting to self-diagnose or self-treat themselves. Our analysis reveals that current search engines are not equipped to effectively satisfy such information needs; this can have potential harmful outcomes on people’s health. Our results advocate for more research in developing information retrieval methods to support such complex information needs.