Simple Solutions: Online Symptom Checkers

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The internet has all the answers, but, not when it comes to your health. One-third of U.S. adults use online symptom checkers.

Last year, online symptom checkers were used more than 100-million times. That's users logging onto popular sites like Web MD, Mayo Clinic, and Symcat to find out if they need medical attention.

A recent Harvard study found that the diagnoses and triage advice given across 23 online symptom checkers were "astonishingly inaccurate." and four sites: I-Triage, Symcat, Symtomate and Isabel always told users to seek medical help.

The interactive programs have users key in their aches, pains and irritations. Then, an algorithm assigns the probabilities to the hypothesis.

Online symptom checkers only gave the correct diagnosis on the first try in 34-percent of patient cases. The number rose to 51-percent when the diagnosis was correct within the first three tries.

The conclusion: online symptom checkers are "unlikely to be useful for patients."

The only symptom the sites were able to get right the first time-- if a patient needed emergency assistance.

Symptom checker websites do not need to apply for agency approval to assess symptoms, but the FDA will step in if there are reported safety concerns.
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