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Online symptom checker correct only 26% of the time

Researchers have highlighted the pitfalls of relying on the internet when it comes to eye health

02 Nov 2018 by Selina Powell

Scientists have emphasised the shortcomings of online health assessment tools.

Research presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual meeting in Chicago found that diagnoses generated by WebMD Symptom Checker were correct only 26% of the time.

The researchers found that the treatment recommendation was often inappropriate. They highlight that most eye health assessments require an in-person examination.

Lead researcher, Carl Shen, of McMaster University, conducted the study after he noticed that his own patients were coming in with pre-conceived ideas about their health that they had taken from the internet.

“Sometimes doing research online can be helpful in identifying possible conditions and it’s good to be an informed patient,” he said.

“But it’s also true that often these online symptom checkers do not arrive at the correct diagnosis,” Dr Shen highlighted.

He added that the wrong recommendation on what the patient should do with that diagnosis could be dangerous.

In some situations, the online symptom checker recommended self-care when emergency room treatment would have been the most appropriate option.

“The technology used in these online symptom checkers still have a long way to go in terms of accuracy,” Dr Shen concluded. 

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