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That Online Symptom Checker May Do More Harm Than Good

Have you ever used an online symptom checker to try and self-diagnose a rash? An illness? An injury? If so, the answers you have gotten may not have been all too reliable. Last month, researchers at Harvard Medical School tested the accuracy of several online symptom checkers and the results may not be what you expect.

Using common symptoms and searches, researchers found that the accuracy of diagnosis varied substantially. In fact, these symptom checkers provided the correct diagnosis as the first result only 34% of the time and within the first three diagnoses 51% of the time.

Many of these online symptom checkers have patients highlight their area of pain and then continue with common questions that are answered on a sliding scale using “Yes”, “No” or “Don’t Know” or “On a Scale of 1-5”. Once the questions have been answered, an algorithm known as “Bayesian inference” calculates the data into the most likely diagnosis. Some sites will provide 1-3 likely diagnoses, while others can provide up to 99 possible diagnoses.

Many of these symptom checkers will also suggest whether the patient should seek medical attention or if the condition can be self-treated. Based on the symptoms the Harvard researchers typed in, the suggestion of whether to seek medical attention or self-treat were only accurate 57% of the time.

If you are ever unsure of whether to seek medical treatment for an illness or injury for you or your family, it is always best to err on the side of caution and consult a medical professional. At GoHealth Urgent Care, our highly skilled team of providers can diagnose and treat the illnesses and injuries that may arise in your daily life. Walk-in or check-in online at any of our locations throughout Long Island, Queens and Staten Island.


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