Friday, July 10, 2015

Study: Online Symptom Checkers Correct in About Half of Cases - iHealthBeat

Evaluation of symptom checkers for self diagnosis and triage: audit study

Flip a coin or guess is as good as the online web diagnosis sites.. This study from the British Medical Journal.

Researchers entered symptoms for 45 patients into the checkers, sourced from standardized vignettes used in medical student training (WBUR/Kaiser Health News, 7/9). The patients' conditions included:
  • Acute liver failure;
  • Bee stings;
  • Meningitis; and
  • Mononucleosis ("Shots," NPR, 7/9).

Study Findings

Overall, the study found about:
  • One-third of the sites named the correct diagnosis as the patient's first option;
  • 51% of the sites named the correct diagnosis in their top three options; and
  • 58% of the sites named the correct diagnosis in their top 20 options (Semigran,BMJ, 7/9).
Overall, researchers said the checkers were about as accurate as diagnoses made through primary care physician phone services, which usually offer insight on whether patients should seek urgent care. Further, lead author Hannah Semigran, a research assistant at Harvard Medical School, said the online symptom checkers were "pretty good at effectively directing people with an (emergency) situation to seek some kind of appropriate care, and to do so quickly" (Mozes, HealthDay, 7/9).


Ateev Mehrotra, one of the study authors, said the findings show patients should use symptom checker sites with caution (WBUR/Kaiser Health News, 7/9). He said, "People who use these tools should be aware of their inaccuracy and not see them as gospel. They shouldn't think that whatever the symptom checker says is what they have" ("Shots," NPR, 7/9).
Mehrotra added, "These sites are not a replacement for going to the doctor and getting a full evaluation and diagnosis. 

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