Many of us often use online and mobile symptom checkers to diagnose our ailments and decide whether to seek medical attention. However, a recent study finds that these symptom checkers are not very accurate or reliable.
The study compared 23 English-language symptom checker applications to 45 standardized clinical vignettes used to test physicians on their diagnostic abilities and management decisions. The 45 vignettes included both common and uncommon conditions and were divided into three categories: 15 were for conditions requiring immediate emergency care, 15 were for non-emergency care, and 15 were for self-care conditions.
Participants with no clinical training entered the symptoms from the vignettes into the symptom checkers. The correct diagnosis was listed first in just 34% of websites. An accurate diagnosis was most likely for common, self-care conditions. Compare this to nurse triage lines which typically have 80% accuracy for conditions requiring emergency care.
In addition, the researchers believe these applications can be improved in many areas such as incorporating demographic and local epidemiologic data of particular illnesses. Until then, consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your condition or treatment.
Source: Semigran H, Linder J, Gidengil C, Mehrotra A. Evaluation of symptom checkers for self diagnosis and triage: audit study. BMJ, 2015; 351 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h3480 (Published 08 July 2015).