What is a symptom checker app?
Symptom checker apps have been rising in popularity. Patients can feel empowered in the comfort of their own home. They’re able to get an idea of what could be ailing them, it can help keep their medical costs lower, and they can visit their local pharmacist for a treatment option that is available over-the-counter to speed up their recovery. Naturally, when people start adopting a Do-It-Yourself approach to health, there is room for error and mistakes. However, used with care, these platforms can assist doctors and medical practitioners.
Symptom checker apps are programs that are downloaded typically to a mobile device. It enables people to list any symptoms they are experiencing, it then uses this information and runs it through a detailed algorithm to match the symptoms – their severity, and their correspondence with each other – to provide a possible diagnosis.
Why are they useful?
Millions of people around the world use symptom checker apps, but they seem to be used particularly often by people located in the United States. In fact, Google Play records over 100 million uses for apps of this nature during the past year. Symptom checker apps are so easy to use that they’re embraced by people of every age group and every background – from teenagers through to older people.
- Symptom checker apps can serve an authentic purpose beyond empowering an individual at home. Emergency departments and medical practitioners can minimise the intake of unnecessary visits and hospital trips with a dedicated portal. For example, a symptom checker app could feed essential information through to the medical team before they have seen the patient, enabling adequate preparation and ensuring those who do need to see a doctor obtain care with the right person and in the right place.
- They are unlikely to replace doctors – even the most skilled practitioners rely on continual learning to support their decision-making in treatments and accurate diagnosing. A symptom checker app will not replace a doctor’s decision-making process but augment it.
- Symptom checker apps are built with detailed algorithms. These algorithms are made using medical data. They give a far more accurate suggested diagnosis than a Google search result, actually reducing the instances of dangerous self-care errors.
Are there any problems with using symptoms checker apps?
No element in the medical industry (or any field for that matter) is without mistakes. This is simply the nature of existence. While symptom checker apps form a powerful tool for medical practitioners, they are not flawless. There are certain risks involved with an evolving area that provides information on such a broad topic but equally requires precision. Some of the risks include:
- Inaccurate diagnosis of symptoms – There are instances where a symptom checker app might get the diagnosis wrong. This could lead to a patient attempting to self-medicate at home, at significant risk. Or, unnecessarily, call an ambulance or visit a busy Accident and Emergency department.
- Symptom checker apps might give an accurate diagnosis, and patients might choose to self-medicate at home. Over-the-counter or alternative medicine might not yield the best possible results, leading to a prolonged or severe illness later. When a doctor provides a diagnosis, he/she can also suggest the best possible treatment protocol and more tailored advice. Research indicates that having that personal interaction increases the likelihood that a patient seeks treatment and commits to the prescribed management.
- Symptom checker apps can’t provide the mental or holistic support that often accompanies a doctor’s visit. Chronic conditions, like diabetes, can be managed using an app, to a degree, but the strain on mental health and other factors also need to be considered. Managing the implications of chronic conditions on a patient’s mental health is crucial as part of the treatment regime. Patients often fail to reach out, not identifying the extent of the mental strain they are experiencing, and how that impacts them, on their own.
AI powers Ada. When you use the app, the AI will ask you for one symptom at a time, much like a doctor’s consultation might feel. Ada bases each new question on the answer you gave the last one, so, as you would expect, the machine learning is pretty advanced. The app has been around since 2011. The knowledge that powers its algorithms is supplied by a dedicated team of doctors, scientists, and engineers. Ada requires users to create an account, disabling the ability to log symptoms anonymously. Ada aims to be the “doctor in your pocket”, which is apparent in their consultation-style operation.
Symptomate is free across its various platforms, including the mobile app and the web interface. It’s diagnosing process is one of the most thorough. It includes a unique step, asking the patient to list their symptoms and also to show the parts of the body affected. The user is then directed to a map to indicate places they have recently visited – This is handy in tracking global diseases and diagnosing them. The app will give patients a list of potential illnesses but recommends to have blood work done to confirm a diagnosis.
WebMD has been a popular source for internet-users seeking to research a condition or self-diagnose their symptoms for years already. It’s one of the names consumers trust and recognise in the digital sphere. Their app takes this knowledge and puts it to practical use, making it easier to consolidate symptoms to identify a diagnosis. A shortcoming is the overload of information. The diagnosing process is lengthy and provides a long list of possible ailments. The user is then able to read more about the listed conditions.
Mayo Clinic Symptom Checker
Mayo Clinic is an authority in the digital health industry. They’re valued for the contribution to research and bringing information to consumers. They only provide a web-based platform for checking symptoms; there is no mobile app. Their substantial knowledge and expertise make this platform worthwhile. The user interface isn’t very appealing but will captivate those who want accurate results in the symptom areas they cover.
Healthily has become popular and was previously known as Your.MD. Its aim is to support self-care. It’s entirely free to download as an app or use as a web-platform. Along with a comprehensive chatbot system for diagnosis, Healthily also provides resources that provide information on trending medical topics and a directory of medical practitioners near you (this feature is called OneStop Health), encouraging those with a diagnosis to seek help. The chatbot will ask intuitive questions – When it can’t place the symptoms into a diagnosis or if it detects a serious condition, it will direct you to see a medical professional. The system also has a handy ‘When to worry’ feature, explaining what to expect from the given diagnosis and the listed symptoms.
The future of symptom checker apps
Could symptom checker apps replace doctors?
It is highly unlikely.
There will always be that need for human interaction. As caregivers, healthcare professionals play a role other than simply diagnosing and recommending treatment protocols. Practitioners work with patients as a whole being, considering a patient’s practical circumstances and how that affects treatment options and prognoses. Symptom checkers have the capability of augmenting this work. Most importantly, as they become more accurate with time, they have huge potential to empower patients and help with understanding their health better.