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Answering Health Questions in 140 Characters or Less

Submitted by on October 26, 2011 – 5:03 pm7 Comments

By Jessica H. Simon and Mark Silverberg

Like many websites, Q&A content is the fastest growing content type at HealthCentral, and has been for years. We get a few hundred questions a week and nearly everyone is answered by our Experts or community members in a timely fashion. While we have articles that cover each of these topics extensively, users turn to Q&A because they are looking for personalized answers that address their needs, on their terms. As a result, Q&A conversations are some of the best examples of how we make a difference in people’s lives and well-being on a daily basis.

“Thank you Lene. The information that is available on this site for panicky, freaked out first time flarers is immeasurable –  feel like I have a life line” (Source:

“Thank you so much for your helpful advice! […] Whenever I did google searches for my situation I just kept getting webpages and message boards that scared me even more. You definitely helped put my mind at ease and lowered my stress at least 50%.” (Source:

So we asked, “Where else are people asking health questions and how can we help more people?” All the usual places come to mind: between friends and family, search engines, at the doctor’s office etc. But, what about social media? After some quick digging using the Twitter API we found a treasure trove of health questions asked on Twitter on a daily basis (Inbox Q cites around 6k per day in April). Many remained unanswered and most we have answers to. So we came up with the idea for @Health_Tips: we find answers to your health questions on Twitter. Here’s how it works:

1)      We search public Tweets for condition-specific, qualified health questions OR users directly @mention us with health questions

2)      We query our content base for answers to these questions, using proprietary technology that identifies the semantic intent of the question and the most related content

3)      Our content producers manually curate the content and personalize an @reply answer

Today, we answer an average of 350 questions per week and have proven successful in helping thousands of people on Twitter since the soft launch of this project in June.  We continue to see unbelievably positive feedback from the Twittersphere:

Health_Tips Sample Tweets:


Furthermore, the people we help are rapidly becoming loyal users to @Health_Tips and On Twitter, our follower base is growing at about 500 people per month, as people we’ve helped check out our daily health tips, which range from condition-specific FAQs to little known facts about bacon or phobias. And, our site traffic from Twitter continues to climb from the nearly 100% tweet CTR on links we send as answers and the amplification we get from influential health information seekers who spread the word for us, like LeAnne Rimes and Kim Coles.

Possibly the most important value we get from this project, is expanding our ability to connect with a new audience of health information seekers and understand their needs. It allows us to understand common questions, popular topics, content they find helpful, templates that appeal to them and what we’re missing. Ultimately through @Health_Tips we are better able serve the health community.

Come check us out at!/Health_Tips and ask us a question!


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