Over a thousands and millions times every year many of us turn to a new type of online software called Symptom Checkers to try to self-diagnose medical symptoms. It can be either to get counsel on whether one should rest at home until feeling better or should we seek further medical care. But how accurate is the information we obtain is the question we need to answer before we rely on these sites.
Symptom checker is a kind of software, which requests users to list their symptoms using methods such as free text entry and multiple-choice checklists. Once a program has collected the information, the computer returns a list of possible illnesses that might cause the programmed symptoms and suggests whether the patient should seek care right away, call a doctor in the next few days, or just use self-care methods, such as resting at home and eating better.
Reliability of Online Self-Diagnosis
A study was conducted at Harvard to test the reliability of these symptom checkers. To test the symptom checkers, researchers at Harvard fashioned standardized lists of symptoms from 45 clinical vignettes that are used to test and teach medical students. They then inputted those symptoms into 23 different symptom checkers on the internet. On the whole, the software algorithms that the researchers considered listed the correct diagnosis first only in miniscule 34% of cases.
The symptom checkers that were assessed tended to be overly precautious, encouraging users to seek care for situations where staying at home might be sensible. The researchers noted that this tendency toward conventional advice encouraged people to seek needless care — an outcome that health care reform strives to reduce in order to reduce healthcare costs for the patients.
How Internet Self-Diagnosis is Dangerous
When you self-diagnose yourself online, you are basically assuming that you know all the subtleties that diagnosis constitutes. This can be very risky, as people who assume that they can deduce what is going on with them may miss the fine distinctions of diagnosis.
For example, people with mood swings often think that they have bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness. However, mood swings are a sign that can be a part of many different clinical scenarios: major depression and borderline personality disorder being two examples of further diagnoses.
Meanwhile, if people are dealing with one problem while ignoring the real source of the issue, they may find that their original grievance grows much graver. For example, people who presume they have a brain tumor might begin to experiment in drug abuse in order to make the pain fade and bring it to a tolerable level. They may believe that they’re suffering from a terminal illness and therefore don’t have long to live, so there’s no reason to be clear-headed.
Self-diagnosis also challenges the role of the doctor, which is not the best way to start a medical relationship. While doctors are normally very enthusiastic about getting packaged information and your guesses on what could be ailing you, it would help if you actually have confidence in your doctor. Online self-diagnosis might seem like a clever idea to save money but it can prove much more expensive in the long run if you end up misdiagnosing your symptoms.