Who is on the other end of a health search query?

While producing my thesis film at Boston University in the 90s, one of my wonderfully creative advisers, Srdjan Karanovic cautioned me to be mindful about the themes I worked with because they would likely manifest as important subjects in my life.  My, how prophetic he was.

While I don't make films anymore, I curate and create online health content. Sometimes it's like making a movie, but more often it's like making a scene within a movie. The work is creative and growing ever more so with each advance in technology.  But what really keeps me interested in the field is that I am always conjuring that audience on the other end of the search query . . .

Is she alone? Or poor? Is he afraid,  angry about what he's about to lose? Is the searcher seeking data - just the stats? Or wisdom? Or is it forgiveness he's after?

These distinct "genres" of health queries ideally receive a response that is a rich, service driven offering that meets a searcher where he is, so to speak, then moves him gradually to a place of new understanding and action. We expect a lot, don't we? We regularly promote, "Take control" and "Make it happen" on the pages of the most popular health websites today.

But asking a lot of patients doesn't help them accomplish a lot. And that's why now is the time for companies to invest in building compassionate service-driven content. Now is the time to provide health seachers results that bear witness to the many dimensions of human experience; that educates and cares for people where they are. Now is a time for leadership.

"Mind, body, spirit - from birth to death - by life stage and with empathy," is a possible call to action for health editors today.

As an editor, one cannot help but feel both excitement and responsibility when she's creating content that may influence another person's course of healing.  That's why we hope that most editors are compassionate. That they balance science and art in their approach. We also hope that they are experienced and not just cranking content farm pages out based on keyword metrics.

Remember: We are creating content and engines that will fuel pages and pages of search results for years to come.  Millions of people will depend on those results.

Professor Karanovic's words come to life when someone I know and love becomes the person behind the search query. That's when my humble impact on the world is revealed for what it is: a drop in the bucket. Yet, in these moments, when I sit with a sick friend and I sense her excruciating search for answers to questions such as: Why is this happening? How can I get back to ___ or ___? Will I be able to afford this medicine? Can anyone help me? Am I going to die? . . . I am living the themes of my work.

In these moments I am overcome with a desire to reassure and to serve in whatever way is appropriate and practical. But it is not my desire to reassure a friend that she will survive or live the way she used to live. No, it is more my wish to reassure her that she is not alone, that the suffering she feels is real, and overwhelming, and frightening. And that, in spite of all these things, she still stands a chance of making it through. Yes, it is powerful training to sit and share with sick people.

But the bulk of the job gets done when I return to my desk to humbly curate and edit packets of health information. I cannot help but be mindful of the human being on the other end of the search query.


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