Monday, October 17, 2011

An answer engine

I gave a talk at the recent Public Health Wales staff conference (I work part-time for them) about my experience of answering clinical questions, the usefulness of evidence and the problem with search.  I highlighted that clinicians want answers to their questions, not links to ten articles that might contain their answer (or part of it) - which is what search does.

As you may well know I'm passionate about answering clinician's questions and I view search as - at best - a partial solution.  As TechCrunch reported in 2008:

"Despite attempts to evolve search into something more human friendly, there’s still a big hole there. As useful as Google is, it doesn’t answer questions very well"

I also heard an interview by Steve Wozniak (who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs) and he too was talking about the limitations of search and how we need to create an answer engine. 

What would be needed to create an answer engine for clinicians?  TRIP Answers has a collection of over 6,000 Q&As but what would it take to make that 60,000 large? 

I am very tempted to try and create an open repository of clinical Q&As and allow users (probably after a vetting process) to upload their own Q&As.  Why not cut up guidelines into their constituent recommendations?  Why not cut-up individual chapters in - say the Green Book - into separate Q&s?

To do this requires volunteers, co-explorers, people believing that clinician's want answers to their questions.  Anyone else fancy transforming the clinical information space?


Deb Skolnik MLS said...

Jon, there are some great clinical questions (and answers) in the Journal of Family Practice -- they are mini-systematic reviews on topics.

Try this search in PubMed to see them:

"strength of recommendation" OR "clinical inquiries" AND "J Fam Pract"[Journal]

Amanda Burls said...

Jon - isn't this what the collections of CAT banks try to do?

I think it would be great if you could organise this so it was systematic and comprehensive.