According to recent study conducted by Harvard specialists, online symptom checkers cannot replace doctors just yet.
The Harvard Medical School researchers decided to test out the level of accuracy of these symptom checkers. And so, they tested 45 different medical cases on 23 symptoms checkers that are widely used by the general public.
Upon analyzing the results of that the websites delivered for the cases, they concluded that overall, they got it right about half the time, which is not a reliable proportion.
Even the NHS’s symptom checker website, which is pretty much the Rolls Royce of these sites, missed 13% of the emergency cases and did not advise the people to seek the help of a doctor as soon as possible, which is probably the most important thing that a symptom checker should be able to do. Overall, the 23 websites only identified 80% of emergency cases, so the NHS website still registered superior performance.
As for the entire amount of the 45 cases, which included both emergencies and non-emergency cases, the NHS symptom checker provided the correct diagnosis and advice in 52 % of cases.
The Harvard researchers pointed out that the use symptom checkers is actually misunderstood by the general public. The aim of these websites is to help the general public decide whether or not they need to get to the hospital or not, whether their condition might be an emergency or not.
“It’s not nearly as important for a patient with fever, headache, stiff neck and confusion to know whether they have meningitis or encephalitis as it is for them to know that they should get to an ER quickly”, perfectly points out Professor Ateev Mehrotra, the lead researcher of the study.
If a database ware able to perform a perfect diagnosis on its own, then doctors would have been rendered obsolete quite a while back. However, it still takes a human touch and quite a bit of experience to issue a correct diagnosis, so people need to understand that symptom checkers provide more of a guideline for their troubles, rather than an actual diagnosis.
Unfortunately, online research is all that some patients can afford to treat their symptoms and this is why they need to be as reliable as possible, so that at they could at least warn people when they are clearly out of their depth and need to call an ambulance right away, as life or death situations should not be put on hold for financial reasons.
Aside from these unfortunate situations though, there are a great many people out there who choose to google their symptoms before they consider going to the doctor’s office. And the worst part is they end up getting to a doctor when their issues has already become aggravated and the internet is out of solutions.
Furthermore, most patients look up their symptoms online before going to the hospital and quite often put doctors in the uncomfortable position of explaining to them that they have been misinformed. This often affects the outcome of the treatment, because some patients end up considering that the doctor might be wrong, as it makes much more sense that one person is wrong rather than the entire internet.
For the moment, medical websites and symptom checkers do not seem to be going anywhere, so the best possible course of action is to improve their performance, so that they can help more people at the end of the day. Online symptom-based research is already a common practice, so the chances of changing patients’ ways are quite slim.
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