Online symptom checkers incorrectly diagnose users 66% of the time, and only display the correct diagnosis in the top 20 guesses 58% of the time.
Researches from the Harvard Medical School Department of Health Care Policy conduced research on 23 online symptom checkers to examine if they had any deficits in diagnosis or triage (the degree of urgency associated with the diagnosis).
Online symptom checkers use algorithms to narrow down a patient’s diagnosis using a series of questions. Out of over 100 websites, only 23 unique algorithms were found according to the researchers.
The researches discovered that while inaccurate, the online checkers aired on the side of caution, encouraging users to seek professional care even if none was needed. Each online checker was tested with 45 theoretical patients, with a range of conditions to common and non-threatening to obscure and deadly.
While online tools continue to improve, there is no replacement for talking to an actual doctor.