Caution urged for online symptom check

Canadian researchers have urged patients to exercise caution if depending on online symptom checkers to self-diagnosis ophthalmic conditions. In their study, the researchers said they found the top three diagnoses generated by an online symptom checker included the correct diagnosis in only 38% of cases. A substantial number of diagnoses might also not be captured, they added.


Ophthalmology researchers from McMaster University in Ontario collaborated with colleagues in the University of Ontario’s surgical department. In a cross-sectional study, 42 validated clinical vignettes of ophthalmic symptoms were generated and distilled to their core presenting symptoms. Cases were entered into the WebMD symptom checker by both medically trained and non-medically trained personnel who were unaware of the correct diagnosis.


Output from the symptom checker, including the number of symptoms, ranking and list of diagnoses, and triage urgency were recorded. The correct diagnosis was included in those given by the symptom checker in 16 of the 42 cases, with the primary diagnosis correct for 11 of these. Triage urgency based on the top diagnosis was appropriate in 7 of 18 emergent cases and 21 of 24 non-emergent cases, the team found.


The study was conducted in October 2017 and analysis was performed between October 2017 and April 2018.

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