Don’t Trust Online Symptom Checkers

The above headline seems like a pretty obvious statement, right? Sure, we’ve occasionally popped onto websites like WebMD to make sure that pain in our stomachs isn’t an early sign of some sort of life threatening illness and more often than not we’ve come away none the wiser as to what’s really wrong with us.

A recent study however has taken a closer look at these online symptom checkers and have confirmed something we’ve all probably come to the conclusion of a long time ago. They’re only correct “about half of the time.”

According to a Harvard Medical School study, one-third of online symptom checker results listed the correct diagnosis as the first option for patients, with half of the websites listing the correct diagnosis in their top three results. Because of this lead author, Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, urges patients to be cautious.

Researchers used the symptoms of 45 patients from examples used to train medical students. Results from The Mayo Clinic’s checker (one of the top diagnostics clinics), was only correct 17 per cent of the time, with the correct diagnosis listed in the top 20 results in 76 per cent of cases.

So, next time you decide to hop onto WebMD to see whether that odd pain in your thigh is Arachnoiditis, just remember that this result has a one in three chance of being correct. The best advice, if you’re really worried, just go to your doctor…

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