Symptom Checkers Often Wrong
The next time you’re not feeling well, you may want to call your doctor instead of using an online symptom checker.
A new study published in the British Journal of Medicine looked at 23 online and mobile symptom checker apps to determine their effectiveness. Overall, the apps offered the correct diagnosis on the first try only 33 percent of the time.
The research found that in the standardized scenarios used in the analysis, the apps offered accurate triage advice 57 percent of the time. On the other hand, the apps got severe situations wrong in one out of five cases requiring emergency treatment.
The app that did the best at giving the correct diagnosis on the first try was DocResponse.com, which was right 50 percent of the time. Additionally, the level of accuracy was higher for the systems that used Schmitt or Thompson nurse triage protocols, standard diagnostic tools used by clinicians to provide advice over the phone. With these nurse triage protocols, 72 percent of patients got the appropriate guidance on the urgency of their situation, compared with 55 percent without the protocols.
Overall, researchers say that if your situation isn’t urgent, it probably won’t hurt to spend a few minutes checking your symptoms online. However, if you think something is seriously wrong—such as chest pain, high fever, or bleeding—call 911 and don’t waste time on the computer.