5 Problems Associated With Symptom Checkers
5 Problems Associated With Symptom Checkers
Babyboomers.com Staff

Symptom checkers are perhaps a staple of the internet. They can offer you convenient and accessible information about your health in an easy-to-read format without going to a doctor. By simply answering a few questions and filling in some details, symptom checkers can provide you with information and a list of potential diagnoses that may fit your condition. But do they help or hurt? 

In this post, we explore different problems associated with symptom checkers. Read on to learn more.

1. Symptom Checkers May Provide Inaccurate Information

First and foremost, it is crucial to note that symptom checkers should not be used as an alternative to consulting medical professionals. They should not be considered a substitute for a doctor. As such, if you are experiencing any health-related issues, it is always best to seek medical attention immediately.

Symptom checkers cannot account for all of the possible causes of your symptoms. Some symptoms may be benign or self-diagnosable, but others can signify serious health problems that require professional care.

For example, if you experience chest pains after an exercise and wonder whether it's normal or something more serious like heart disease, your doctor can tell you this based on their knowledge of medical history and research on similar cases. Symptom checkers may not be able to provide this level of help without human intervention to make an accurate diagnosis.

Moreover, an important diagnostic tool used by doctors is factoring in the patient’s family history. In most cases, this is information that a symptom checker may not have.

2. Using A Symptom Checker May Cause Anxiety

When you’re in the middle of a health crisis and searching for answers, symptom checkers can be a great way to start narrowing down what’s wrong. They are easy to use, convenient, and quick. But considering they may not always provide accurate results, they can do more harm than good.

A thing to note is that symptom checkers could give false positives. It means that the symptoms you’ve reported may not be indicative of the condition you think they are. As a result, it may cause additional anxiety or stress, especially if you’re unsure whether or not your symptoms are serious enough to warrant a visit to the doctor’s office. On the other hand, it may also cause people who don’t have any reason to seek medical attention to feel like they need one anyway.

3. Symptoms That Are Positively Correlated With Serious Diseases Are More Likely To Generate A Recommendation To Seek Care Immediately

Another problem with symptom checkers is that they may suggest you see a doctor based on your symptoms, even if those aren't serious. Perhaps the reason is many websites use machine learning algorithms to generate care recommendations. These systems generally don't understand human language or the nuances of medical terminology, so they are not able to determine whether your symptoms are critical or not.

For example, a person who has diarrhea might also have an abnormal heart rate and blood pressure, but these are not necessarily related to one another or indicative of trouble. Nevertheless, some symptom checkers may highlight these three conditions together as a potential sign of more serious medical problems.

4. Symptom Checkers May Over-Test And Overtreat Some Patients

In an attempt to be helpful, symptom checkers can lead to overdiagnosis, over-testing, and overtreatment. It is especially true for patients who don't have access to a doctor or are unaware of the potential harms associated with self-diagnosis and self-management.

For example, if someone with no symptoms uses a symptom checker and finds they have high blood pressure or hypertension, they might decide to take drugs to help lower their blood pressure. Doing so can lead them down an unnecessary health care path that includes additional tests and treatments that could cause harm instead of benefit.

5. Symptom Checkers Have No Official Standards

The data found in symptom checkers are often limited to a single geographic area, making it difficult for the product to account for regional differences in health care habits or access. 

Furthermore, these tools are often created as commercial products with limited input from experts in medicine or public health. And as such, there could be no guarantee that they would be updated regularly as new information becomes available.

Because there are limited to no official checks and balances in place, it makes standardization of these sites practically impossible. Therefore, consulting a medical professional is always the best option.

Final Words

Although symptom checkers are an exciting development in the medical field, they can also have some critical limitations. As healthcare providers continue to explore ways to use technology in the service of their patient's health, it’s essential to remember there's no substitute for face-to-face communication and checkups with a professional health provider who has time to listen and understand what you need and diagnose your case more accurately.


About the Author

Melanie Lynch is a health care specialist. She conducts webinars and writes blogs to share her expertise in her field. In her free time, Melanie enjoys camping with her family

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