Online symptom checkers often get it wrong

Tuesday, 14 Jul 2015


Online symptom checkers are frequently wrong and their triage advice is overly cautious, a review finds.

The analysis included 23 online symptom checkers across common clinical conditions in three triage categories of urgent (eg, pulmonary embolism); non urgent (eg, otitis media); and self-care (eg, viral URTI).

Overall the symptom checkers provided the correct diagnosis first in 34% of patient evaluations and gave appropriate triage advice in 57% of  evaluations.

The quality of triage advice varied by urgency of condition, with appropriate triage advice provided in 80% of emergent cases, 55%  of non-emergent cases, and 33% of self care cases, found the study which was published in the BMJ.

Symptom checkers are part of a larger trend of both patients and physicians using the internet for many healthcare tasks and their use will only increase, said the authors from the Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“Physicians should be aware that an increasing number of their patients are using new internet based tools such as symptom checkers and that the diagnosis and triage advice patients receive may often be inaccurate,” they concluded.

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