Given the increased attention that users pay to Internet programs, a new medical study questions the accuracy of online symptom checkers. The study, conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School, aims to establish whether the symptom checker programs on the Internet can really be accounted for in medical diagnoses.
Ateev Mehrota and Hannah Semigran from the Harvard Medical School are preoccupied with the accuracy of online medical websites as people seem to rely heavily on them at present. Based on the survey that the team of researchers conducted with the help of the Pew Internet Project survey, it appears that the Internet has become the main source of information for most users.
The results of the survey indicate that people first take to online website to inform themselves on the possible symptoms and effects of a certain disease. This practice has been partially stimulated by the increased medical taxes, but also by the approachability of these online symptom checkers.
As a result, it has become more obvious that the accuracy of these programs has to be tested, so Internet users would know which programs are reliable and which they should avoid.
Researchers have invented a list of 45 symptom scenarios that were added on the 23 most common online symptom checkers from various countries. The current study was applied only on programs created by developers in the United States, United Kingdom, Poland and Netherlands as these appear to be the ones that are the most spread on the Internet.
Statistics have pointed out at the end of the research that only one third of the current medical programs is capable of delivering accurate medical diagnoses. 51 programs managed to provide correct answers, whereas 58 percent of the programs were mildly accurate.
Based on the findings of the new study, Mehorta has concluded that some online symptom checkers are indeed accurate, especially those pertaining to a widely developed medical website. However, in his opinion, the medical diagnosis is less important when determining the usefulness of an online program. What really matters is the program’s ability to advise Internet users to go to a medical expert.
Mehorta has further stated that most of the times, it is not the diagnosis, which causes medical treatments to fail, but rather the fact that patients don’t receive treatment at the right moment. For that matter, the most recommended symptom checkers on the Internet are the ones that advise users to seek medical help from physicians as soon as possible.
Online symptom checkers, much like medical telecommunication services, represent only one step in the recovery of the patient; therefore, patients should only regard them as such, the researchers have concluded.
Further studies will most likely focus on patients’ intention to follow the recommendations of online symptoms as users’ impression on these programs can help us determine the kind of reputation they enjoy among Internet customers.
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