Online symptom checkers can lead to delayed treatment for serious conditions: study

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Online symptom checkers in the U.S. and U.K. sometimes stop patients from seeking prompt treatment for serious illnesses, according to a study published March 9 in BMJ Health & Care Informatics.

Researchers analyzed four national government-sponsored online symptom checkers' ability to accurately triage people who need medical assessment and/or treatment. The tools they studied were CDC Coronavirus Symptom Checker, the Singapore COVID-19 Symptom Checker, Stop COVID-19 Symptom Checker (Japan), and 111 COVID-19 Symptom Checker (U.K.).

The research team sought to determine if the symptom checkers could accurately differentiate mild from severe COVID-19, and whether they could correctly classify illnesses that mimic COVID-19 symptoms, such as bacterial pneumonia and sepsis.

The study found both the U.S. and U.K. tools consistently failed to identify symptoms of severe COVID-19, bacterial pneumonia and sepsis and told patients with these conditions to stay home.

It also found the tools from Singapore and Japan triaged twice as many cases for direct medical assessment when compared to the U.S. and U.K. tools. Singapore's symptom checker had the highest overall referral rate at 88 percent, and the U.S. had the lowest at 38 percent. 

 

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