There seems to be a resurgence of interest in niche search engines, though the subject of health is admittedly a pretty darn big niche. If you’re looking for health information on the Web, I admit I was pretty impressed with Healia ( http://www.healia.com ). (Healia’s in beta.)
The first thing I do with any of specialized search engine — especially one that indexes information that users might find critical — is try to break it. (Sorry.) The first query that came to mind for this particular search engine was canadian drugs. Run that search on Google and look at the kind of results you get — the query is a good magnet for splogs and e-commerce sites.
I was expecting at least a little of that in the Healia results but I didn’t see it! The query managed to find almost 1.9 million results (well over twice what the Google search for the same query found) but the first page of results were rock solid, including content from government sites (state and federal) Yahoo Health, and Dr. Koop. Going through several pages of results the only complaint I have is that one particular story (about the FDA’s announcement that “Canadian” drugs actually come from other countries) is repeated over and over and over.
Backing up I did a more pedantic search for methadone, which is currently in the news as the subject of an FDA warning. Healia produced a good set of about 12,000 results (this time Google clobbered them with over 4 million and a pretty good first page of results.) You might also notice that Healia’s results come in tabs; in addition to all search results you can get tabs of results on dosage, usage, and side effects.
In addition to plain search results Healia has a bunch of other features. With each search it’ll make suggestions (for both more specific and more general) and if you’re searching for drugs it’ll take a guess at an appropriate Medline entry. Also, if you check out the left side of the results page, you’ll see several checkbox-filters you can use to narrow down your results by reading complexity, relevant population, and characteristics (interactive tools, for text browsers, fast-loading, etc.) I didn’t trust the reading complexity filter that much. It brought me some slightly murky-to-the-layman NIH pages when I searched for synthroid.
Other than that, though, I was very impressed with this site. From the experiments I ran I found it a great place for basic health-related searches that provides a nice mix of results, combining consumer-level, government,and forum sites. Take a look!