medstory2.bmpMicrosoft has agreed to buy a small consumer health search engine called Medstory, in an effort to push further into the healthcare software and Internet service industry.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer announced the purchase today, apparently giving the WSJ, which provides media content to Medstory, an exclusive on the announcement (sub required).

Medstory is one of numerous health care search engines to have launched recently, each of them seeking to help consumers and health care professionals in different ways. Medstory is a tiny start-up, based in Foster City, Calif, and is relatively unknown.

It is backed by inviduals Esther Dyson (editor-at-large at CNET Networks, which has also, interestingly, mentioned the company in early coverage), Zach Nelson, (President and CEO of NetSuite) and Marty Tenenbaum (Internet commerce pioneer and Chairman of CommerceNet).

According to the WSJ, Microsoft hopes to help bring a standard to what is currently a very fragmented healthcare software industry:

Doctors, hospitals and other healthcare facilities currently use a host of different software programs that lack standard ways to input and retrieve healthcare records and other data. Microsoft hopes that it can help standardize that process, making healthcare easier to use — while building a new business for itself.

It isn’t clear, however, how Microsoft will do this. Google and numerous other companies have either entered, or planned to enter this area, seeking to help consumers store medical records, allow easier Web-based retrieval, get better advice, track expenses, and so on.

Medstory’s approach is as quirky as any of the other engines. Take the example of a search for “knee pain,” for example. Medstory returns results for this term in all kinds of different categories. (See screenshot at below). For example, under a “conditions,” you’ll find articles from the WSJ about knee pain, though it isn’t clear why this is limited to the WSJ. There is also a category for “people,” which provides names of doctors who presumably treat knee pain, though there is no explanation of how the’re ordered — however, the WSJ explains tht Medstory’s technology does this by extracting semantic and other relationships on the Web between the term “knee pain” and the various categories. At the bottom are search results that are ordered in a similar way to Google’s results, though they are powered with help of Microsoft’s exisiting search technology.

Medstory has 10 employees, and has so far tried relying on advertising. Medstory Founder and Chief Executive Alain Rappaport has an M.D. and Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology.

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