When you're not feeling well, your first move might be checking your symptoms with a search engine. A recent study, however, suggests that real doctors are still way more accurate than any symptom checker tools out there. Photo by Day Donaldson.
The study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine, tested 234 physicians and 23 online symptom checkers — including the popular WebMD and Mayo Clinic — on 45 hypothetical patients with their own symptoms and medical history. The physicians were able to correctly diagnose 72 per cent of the patients (mind, that's 72 per cent without running any tests), while symptom checkers could only get 34 per cent right. And when it came to serious conditions, doctors were far more accurate than even the best symptom checking tools.
The results may not seem too surprising, but reliance on symptom checkers can be a serious problem. While tools like WebMD and Mayo Clinic can point people in the right direction, they may assume they don't need medical care because they think they're getting all the information they need online. It's OK to use these tools to gain some insight every once in a while, but don't rely on them. They won't give you the whole story. If you think you have a medical problem, you should absolutely see a doctor — even if you don't think it's that serious. You can check out the full study for yourself at the link below.
Comparison of Physician and Computer Diagnostic Accuracy [JAMA Internal Medicine via Los Angeles Times]