A Cognitive Evaluation of Four Online Search Engines for Answering Definitional Questions Posed by Physicians

Yu H, Kaufman D

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Department of Health Sciences, 2400 E. Hartford Avenue PO Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53210, USA
Columbia University, Department of Biomedical Informatics, 622 West, 168th Street VC-5, New York, NY10032, USA

Pac Symp Biocomput. 2007;:328-339.


The Internet is having a profound impact on physicians’ medical decision making. One recent survey of 277 physicians showed that 72% of physicians regularly used the Internet to research medical information and 51% admitted that information from web sites influenced their clinical decisions. This paper describes the first cognitive evaluation of four state-of-the-art Internet search engines: Google (i.e., Google and Scholar.Google), MedQA, Onelook, and PubMed for answering definitional questions (i.e., questions with the format of “What is X?”) posed by physicians. Onelook is a portal for online definitions, and MedQA is a question answering system that automatically generates short texts to answer specific biomedical questions. Our evaluation criteria include quality of answer, ease of use, time spent, and number of actions taken. Our results show that MedQA outperforms Onelook and PubMed in most of the criteria, and that MedQA surpasses Google in time spent and number of actions, two important efficiency criteria. Our results show that Google is the best system for quality of answer and ease of use. We conclude that Google is an effective search engine for medical definitions, and that MedQA exceeds the other search engines in that it provides users direct answers to their questions; while the users of the other search engines have to visit several sites before finding all of the pertinent information.

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