Checking symptoms online is the newest craze to be adopted by increasingly savvy health consumers. Simply punch in your symptoms, wait a few moments—and presto! You will be offered a diagnosis free of charge, without having to make the trek to the doctor’s office.
But how accurate is a diagnosis downloaded by a computer? Recent surveys suggest that online symptom checkers can be remarkably accurate. One such symptom-checker suggested a correct diagnosis in 48 out of 50 health cases. That’s pretty impressive.
Online symptom checkers can help patients research their own health issues. This can be particularly useful for those who want to visit their doctor armed with suggestions about what might be wrong. It’s no secret that doctors have busy schedules and are often pressed for time. Everyone has experienced going through the long process of deciding to make an appointment, booking time off to attend the appointment, arranging transportation, waiting at the doctor’s office, and then finally entering the room and finding they have nothing coherent to say about what’s been bothering them.
Online symptom-checkers can help organize your thoughts around probable causes for your symptoms which your doctor can then analyze using his or her professional training and knowledge in medicine.
Of course, this sort of approach can also backfire. Some might be tempted to bring a diagnosis to the doctor’s office, convinced they have the illness they were matched to online. It can take quite a bit of convincing to reorient a patient towards a different reason for their ill health.
Others may convince themselves that they are suffering from a serious condition when, in fact, they have a common health complaint that can be easily remedied. Patients who have diagnosed themselves may wind up asking for expensive medical tests that they don’t really need.
One other downside to online symptom checkers is that a patient might not seek medical attention if they make the wrong diagnosis based on what the computer tells them. Imagine if you erroneously believed you had indigestion when in fact you had angina.
This is not to say you shouldn’t use online symptom checkers. Just remember that you still need the input of a doctor. Tell your doctor if you’re using a symptom checker. Hopefully your doctor will be able to recommend a reputable and well-designed online site for you to visit. Some newer sites even connect directly to a doctor. By working together and keeping communication lines open, an online symptom checker can be a way for you and your doctor to reach a diagnosis together. Doing “health business” this way could also save both of you some time and optimize the productivity of your clinic visits.
One feather in the cap of online symptom checkers is their ability to help decrease the amount of diagnostic errors that happen simply because a doctor (and patient) misses a crucial link and doesn’t make a connection to a specific health condition. These errors in diagnosis often cause a lot of suffering for patients and doctors alike, who must deal with the fall-out from a missed or wrong diagnosis.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Landro, L., “A Better Online Diagnosis Before the Doctor Visit: As Internet Symptom-Checkers Improve, Health-Care Providers Say It’s OK to Search,” The Wall Street Journal web site, July 22, 2013;
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324328904578621743278445114.html, last accessed July 30, 2013.
Roberts, D., “Online self-diagnosis can cause surfers to fear the worst,” The Telegraph web site, March 15, 2009; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/4986309/Online-self-diagnosis-leads-surfers-to-fear-the-worst.html, last accessed July 29, 2013.