Doctors OK With These Online Symptom-Checking Sites

As any hypochondriac knows, the internet can be a black hole of medical misinformation and fear-mongering when it comes to self-diagnosis. However, doctors are now starting to get on board with online symptom-checking tools, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal.

The article points out that although there are obvious downsides to patients going online to research their symptoms before talking to their doctors, (such as patients demanding "expensive and unnecessary" tests for diseases the internet told them they might have), online symptom-checking tools can also offer doctors many benefits:

Doctors are adding these tools to their websites and incorporating them into electronic medical records, encouraging patients to use them before office visits to save time and make consultations more productive. Another benefit: Results turned up by a symptom-checker may actually help doctors think of something they hadn't considered.

Since roughly 25 percent of Americans reported in a recent survey by Philips North America that that they "use symptom checker websites or home-based diagnosis technology as much as they visit the doctor," and 27 percent prefer using these websites over a doctor-visit, it's about time that doctors are starting to embrace them.

But doctors caution that not all websites are created equal.

One of the sites most favored by doctors is Isabel Healthcare, which was launched in 2001 by a man whose daughter (for whom the site is named) had chickenpox at the age three, and subsequently developed a life-threatening infection that was missed by doctors.

In a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in 2007, Isabel suggested the correct diagnosis in 48 of 50 complex cases, aka with 96 percent accuracy. And beginning last November, Isabel now has a free online symptom-checker for consumers that "can take a pattern of symptoms that patients enter in everyday language and instantly compute the most likely diagnoses from its database of 6,000 diseases, while pushing the more far-out possibilities down the list."

Other online tools being used by health providers include A.D.A.M., a symptom-checker that has the added feature of allowing doctors to view results online so they can determine if patients need an in-person visit, and iTriage, which allows users to include their age and gender to improve diagnoses.