The search for a diagnosis on the Internet using the top symptom checkers based on search engines is only correct in 36% of cases.
Online health-related Searches have grown dramatically, with Google processing 70,000 health-related searches every minute. Many of these searches are used to diagnose whether or not our symptoms are caused by COVID 19. Australian researchers at the University of Edith Cowan have reviewed these online diagnostic resources to assess their accuracy. They published their results in the Australian Medical Journal of Australia.
The researchers’ conclusion is that free online symptom checkers used for self-diagnosis are accurate in only 36% of cases. To arrive at this number, they examined the 36 sites that most frequently appeared between November 2018 and January 2019 after a search in Google, Yahoo, Ask, Search Encrypt, and Bing search engines, that is, the first three pages of results. Of the 1,170 tests that corresponded to different scenarios, the 36 sites were effective in only 36% of cases. Depending on the results, these sites may then advise you to consult a doctor or even go to the hospital. The advice given by the sites to seek medical help was correct in 49% of cases.
The limitations of these online self-diagnosis tools are numerous and potentially dangerous. “Most of the time, these tools are unreliable and can even be dangerous in the worst case,” says Michella Hill, lead author of the study. We have all been ” cyberchondriacs ” at some point, “researching” the first signs of headaches. But in reality, these are websites, and these applications should be used with great care. They do not know your medical history or other symptoms. People with little medical knowledge may think that this advice given on the Internet is correct, or even that they have a disease that is not serious, when in reality it may be the opposite”.
During health emergencies, the sites were effective in 60% of cases
Researchers note, however, that the advice given for a medical emergency is slightly better than the exact diagnosis: “For situations requiring an emergency consultation with a doctor or even a visit to the emergency room, the advice given on the websites was correct in 60% of cases. For non-emergency situations, however, the rate was 30 to 40%. Although this figure is higher than that of a simple diagnosis, it shows the limitations of websites that cannot replace a general practitioner or specialist.