Search Engines, their Evaluation and the Impact on Health Decisions


University of Queensland


Peter Szolovits
CSAIL Clinical Decision Making Group
Search Engines have become a central tool for accessing health information to support a variety of health decisions tasks. For example, it is common for people to use Google to seek health advice online – even for self-diagnosis and treatment decisions. At the same time, clinicians themselves rely on (specialised) search services like PubMed and UpToDate to access medical research publications, systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and guidelines to assist with evidence-based medical practice. In this talk I will use as examples two recent studies my research group has performed, to reflect on advances in search engine technology and their impact on health search and decision making. I will describe the extent to which current search engines can assist users with their health decisions, and I will highlight how most of the evaluation practice used to determine the effectiveness of a search engine is disentangled with the actual success of the end task – and specifically of improving the health decisions we make. I will conclude by advertising the TREC Decision Track, an initiative we have put forward to close the gap between the development of better search engines and the support of better decision making.

Dr. Zuccon is senior lecturer at the University of Queensland Information Technology and Electrical Engineering School, and an ARC DECRA Fellow (2018-2020). He is the research leader of the ielab,