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Using symptoms checkers for diagnoses

Kentucky residents who feel like they are coming down with an illness are increasingly using on-line symptoms checkers so that they can get an idea of what is wrong with them. There are a variety of reasons for this, including saving money on doctor's visits and being able to do it with a few mouse clicks. Another reason may be that some patients have read that health care practitioners often misdiagnose a disease.

According to a report published in October in JAMA Internal Medicine, doctors misdiagnose illnesses 15 percent of the time. In order to check the performance of actual practitioners against the online versions, researchers in Massachusetts conducted a series of tests. Comparing 234 physicians against 23 online checkers, the researchers used 45 patient cases. The cases included patient histories and symptoms but did not include test results or exams, and they ranged from relatively benign to very serious.

The researchers submitted them to symptom checkers and subsequently to physicians. The results showed that the physicians were far more accurate, coming up with the correct diagnosis as their top choice more than twice as often as the online checkers. The doctors were also far more prone to list the correct diagnosis as one of their first three selections.

The researchers agreed that these and similar tests may help to improve real-time diagnoses through the development of sophisticated computer technology. However, a failure to diagnose a disease correctly can lead to a delay in treatment and a worsened medical condition. Patients who have been harmed by such an error may want to meet with a medical malpractice attorney to discuss what steps should be taken.

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