Online HealthCare: Understanding Search Engines to Improve Your Searches
Posted February 24, 2012
A larger number of physicians are now relying on Google to help them find information sources to help them diagnose or treat their most difficult cases. In this article we explain how to make online searches more effective by writing better search queried, thus reducing the time it will take to find articles, information sources and websites relevant to what you are looking for.
Firstly let’s understand what a search engine is and how it works. A search engine is a system that searches the Internet. Search Engines help users sort through the huge amounts of information on the Internet to find what they are looking for. A user type-in words or phrases also called a “search query”, and the search engine looks for those words or phrases in Web sites and returns a listing of links to relevant pages as a result.
One of the challenges which most people face when using search engines is that a large number of results in response to a search query are unrelated to what the user is intending to research. There are, however, some ways to make searching more effective.
Try to meet the search engine halfway by refining your search before you begin.
It is important before starting a search to spare a thought in your mind over what sort of information you want. Split your search topic into key concepts and let each be a search phrase. Enter the smallest possible subset that describes what you want. The words you choose will determine the information you find. Try to use words that are specific and describe what you are looking for in unique ways.
Example: If you want to find articles on “Acute Pain in the Chest “, don't enter the keyword "articles". See what more can you do with the keyword "Pain in Chest."
A search for Articles on Acute Pain in the Chest can be carried out using the search phrase:
“Articles on Acute Pain in the Chest”
But the following search result will actually turn out to be better
“Acute Pain in the Chest”
Anticipate the answers
Before searching, try to imagine what the ideal page you would like to access would look like. Think about the words the articles heading would contain. Think about what words which would be contained in the first couple of sentences of the article that you would consider useful. Use those words, or that phrase, when you enter your query.
Keeping this in mind, if you can rewrite the previously entered search query to something which contains a part of the what the final page would contain, you are bound to get even more accurate and thus more meaningful results.
A medical article on such a topic must contain the words cardiac, heart.
So refine your query still, search for Articles on Acute Pain in the Chest, using the search phrase:
Acute Pain in the Chest cardiac heart
Tip: Adding some words which should be expected to be found in the ideal content to your search phrase will help the search engine provide more relevant results.
Use the available search refining options
Search engines in addition to basic keyword searches allow you to refine your searches using advanced techniques.
These techniques are actually quite simple. Let us look at these below
USING BOOLEAN OPERATORS
Search engines allow the use of Boolean Operators to refine a search. Here the search Query is made up of keywords connected by OR, AND or NOT. You can search more effectively by using these connecting words which are supported but most online databases and search engines.
Using AND will retrieve all records containing both words on either side of AND
E.g Diabetes AND Naturopathy
This will retrieve all records containing the words Diabetes and also the word Naturopathy
Using OR will retrieve all records containing either or both words on either side of OR
Cancer OR Malignancy
This will retrieve all records containing the words Cancer and also the records containing the word Malignancy
Using NOT will retrieve all records containing the left word/phrase and Not containing the words/phrase on the right side of NOT
For e.g. If you want to find out about Alzheimer's care and community resources, you want to filter out the results which will come for Alzheimer's and be about the symptoms and prognosis. To obtain results only pertaining to support and community groups and not detailing the symptom the search query can read
"Alzheimer's" AND "support groups" AND "resources" AND NOT "symptoms."
In many search engines, the plus and minus symbols can be used as alternatives to full Boolean AND and AND NOT. The plus sign (+) is the equivalent of AND, and the minus sign (-) is the equivalent of AND NOT. There is no space between the plus or minus sign and the keyword.
If a specific term must exist in your search result, use the + symbol before the term in your search query
+ Doctors + Chicago
This will return all links with both Doctors and Chicago on the page.
If you want to exclude a term from your search results use the – symbol before the term in your search query
+Doctors +USA –Chicago
This will return all links with Doctors and USA but not Chicago.
Phrase searching is a powerful search technique for significantly narrowing your search results. If you want to perform a more specific search place quotation marks around it and search the phrase instead of the individual words. This tells the search engine to only retrieve documents in which those words appear side-by-side.
For e.g.: If we are searching for nursing schools in chicago and we use the search query
“Chicago nursing schools”
This will retrieve pages with the words in the exact order as specified within the double quotes.
File type searches empower you to search for information in the file formats that you desire. In case you are looking for powerpoint presentations on DNA Sequencing, the following search query will narrow the searches down to the ones which are available as power point presentations
filetype:ppt +DNA +Sequencing
The Url search limits the results to pages where the keyword appears in the website address. A Url search can narrow very broad results to web pages devoted to the keyword topic.
For e.g. Searching for asthama related pages from the Medlineplus database can be carried out as follows
url:"http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/" AND asthama
Wildcards such as * which refer to anything can be used to add flexibility to searches.
For e.g in case the search query is
(hiv or aids) and pregnan*
The search engine will Use the * to mean anything . Thus the results will contain both tose links which contain the keyword pregnant as well as those links which contain the keyword pregnancy
Take advantage of “Find Similar Sites”
A useful option that many search engine sites are now offering is that one can "find similar sites," to the ones that come up in a search result listing. Essentially what the search engine is offering is a way to help the search engine move in the right direction.
- Try to meet the search engine halfway by refining your search before you begin.
- Adding some words which should be expected to be found in the ideal content to your search phrase will help the search engine provide more relevant results.
- Use the available search refining options.
- Use Boolean Searches
- Use Phrases to create more specific search queries
- Use Wildcards to add flexibility to your searches
- Use File type searches to narrow your search to the file formats that you desire
- Use Unique Terms When Possible to Retrieve More Specific Results
- Take advantage of “Find Similar Sites”
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