Baidu claims to deliver better results related to over 30,000 hospitals after public outcry

The troubled Chinese search engine tries to win users back amid the rise of competitors.

China’s biggest search engine Baidu said it is filtering the information related to more than 30,000 public hospitals in a move to increase the platform search accuracy and save its bad reputation of hosting misleading medical information in exchange for ad revenues, Baidu announced via its WeChat official account.

According to Baidu, the new measure comprehends more than 145,000 keywords connected to public hospitals across the country, including their full names, acronyms and commonly-called names. Baidu also started tackling ad-related search results to provide users with more precise, information, the company said.

For instance, the keyword “Red House Hospital” now brings up “The Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital of Fudan University,” a well-known medical center by Shanghai locals for its red roof. Previously, the same keyword could deliver misleading information or ad-related data.

With the latest move, the search engine is trying to redeem its flagging reliability and win users back, after Baidu allowed medical entrepreneurs to bid for higher rankings on the medical information section displayed by the engine.

Baidu was involved in a scandal when many medical speculators, connected with the so-called “Putian system,” named after a city in Fujian, made money by selling remedies that reached top rankings in Baidu’s medical-related searches.

In 2016, a then-21-year-old college student, Wei Zexi, died of rare cancer after being treated at an unvetted hospital featured by Baidu’s search result.

The public image of Baidu became even worse earlier this year, when the article “Baidu as a search engine is dead” went viral online. A Chinese key opinion leader proclaimed a harsh criticism of Baidu search service’s practice of directing several search results back to its own products, including Baijiahao, a content platform the company launched in 2016.

Baidu has seen its profitability flagging in recent years. It booked USD 351 million in net income in the second quarter of this year, a 62% year-on-year decline. The firm previously made a net loss of  USD 49 million in the first quarter, the first time since it went public in 2005.

China’s search engine scene has long been dominated by Baidu, who held nearly 77% of the market. Challengers are not absent, though. Earlier in August, ByteDance launched a mobile-only search portal Toutiao Search within its app.