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Don’t assume you can diagnose what’s wrong with you through the Web

Written by Diane Archer

With all kinds of seemingly trustworthy web sites and apps easy to access, more than one third of Americans turn to the Internet to figure out what’s wrong with them in both urgent and non-urgent situations. A new report shows that it can be a big mistake to diagnose your own condition through one of these symptom checker sites. Even symptom checkers developed  by the Mayo Clinic’s and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ symptom don’t always get it right.

Testing 45 standardized patient health scenarios describing both common and more rare symptoms on 23 digital symptom checker sites, the study found that overall the digital sites only arrived at the correct diagnosis one third of the time (34 percent). For urgent care situations specifically, the sites provided the correct diagnosis first less than a quarter of the time, (24 percent).  In 58 percent of the cases the  site listed the correct diagnosis among the top 20 and gave appropriate triage advice 57 percent of the time.

Eight out of ten times, these sites did provide appropriate triage advice for people in emergency situations. In non-urgent cases, the sites only gave appropriate advice an average of 58 percent of the time; the sites encouraged doctors visits where self-care was appropriate.

Not surprisingly, different sites did a better job of listing the correct diagnosis first, but none of the sites did better than listing the correct diagnosis first half of the time.

If they were more accurate, these symptom checkers could both help ensure patients needing emergency treatment really got it and patients avoided the time and expense of visiting the doctor when it was unnecessary for them to do so. To read the full report, click here.

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