Online Symptom Checkers Fail Testing by Harvard

Reliance on internet for everything has its drawbacks

With our rising reliance on technology and the ever-growing presence the internet has in our lives, you would be hard pressed to find someone not glued to their electronic devices in some way, whether for work or leisure. This is true also for the medical field, with laymen feeling a tad paranoid about symptoms of illness or the occasional weird lump or mole, and wanting an internet solution for it.
They often take to Googling their symptoms on online symptom checkers such as WebMD or Mayo Clinic, and the like. However, this may prove to your biggest mistake according to a new study by Harvard researchers.

The study setup

A new study was published on Wednesday July 8th by Harvard researchers in the BMJ, looking into the accuracy of the online symptom checker. The examination was done in the form of an audit study in which twenty-three online symptom checkers where tested, all in English, with various medical conditions.
To help gauge the accuracy of the diagnoses of the online symptom checkers, the examination was divided into three categories of medical situations: emergency, non-emergency, and self-care. From there, the study observed which of these situations the online symptom checkers decided on, after the study came up with an illness it would take on and give the symptoms to the checker.

The Results

What the researchers then found was that the diagnoses were lackluster and the percentile of the number of times they were right on the money was low. It was enough to be concerned for the misdiagnoses and missed opportunities to get seen or medical care.
Also, the study found that the checkers would recommend going to the triage for treatment when self-care was the more reasonable choice. This was one of the problematic things the researchers found in the audit study on the online symptom checkers.
In fact, one of the authors of the study, Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, mentioned that the important thing about thinking about the symptoms of your ailments is not narrowing down what you have exactly, but rather to focus on seeking medical help immediately. Every second wasted on trying to diagnose yourself may higher your risk of serious injury or further injury to your health.
So yes, the online symptom checkers are pretty much all horrible guessers. Better brush up your acquaintance with your physician instead.


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