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When to Seek Medical Attention

A Symptom Checker Can Help Determine Whether to Seek Care and How Quickly

Consumers now have access to some rather sophisticated tools, designed to collect your symptoms and give you possible diagnoses.   These online tools are called “Symptom Checkers” and they are free. There are now more than 30 of them out there. According to a study reported by the National Institutes of Health, many use the same medical information and logic.   Basically, they take your answers to a set of questions and, based on what you’ve provided, determine whether emergency care is recommended, or if non-emergency care or self care is all right.

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How is a Symptom Checker different than using Google, Bing or other online search tools to get information?

Most people start by searching the internet for possible answers to help diagnose how they’re feeling or decide how serious a medical issue really is.   With typical web searches, there’s pages of links to go through, often with information that’s sometimes hard to understand and/or confusing.  A Symptom checker, on the other hand, is a tool that starts by gathering information from you and then uses computer programs (algorithms) to provide you with the top results corresponding to the information you provided.

Can symptom checkers be trusted?

It’s proven that doctors are more accurate at diagnosing than online symptom checkers.  They gather more information from you and have your history and the clinical experience to come up with a diagnosis correctly more of the time.  However, if are you are questioning whether to seek emergency care, researchers say symptom checkers can be helpful.

The National Institutes of Health and researchers from Harvard Medical School tested 23 symptom checkers and published their results in 2015.  They refer to symptom checkers as screening tools. Meaning, they are useful to someone trying to decide whether to see a doctor quickly or not, commonly called triage.

The study tells us symptom checkers are “roughly equivalent to telephone triage lines commonly used at primary care practices” and they are better then doing general Internet searches to self-diagnose.

When it comes to confirming a diagnosis, experts encourage us to print and take the information to share it in discussion with a doctor.

See more information below, in our Fast Facts section.

How should symptom checkers be used?

Symptom checkers are a guide.  They are not meant to give you a  final answer.  Experts agree on the following:

  • Never ignore or delay getting professional medical advice based solely on information accessed through a symptom checker.
  • Seek immediate medical assistance for all medical emergencies.

Fast Facts

Percentage of times the Symptom Checkers listed the correct diagnosis first (according to Harvard Medical School study - 2015)

Percentage of times the Symptom Checkers included the correct diagnosis in the top 3 results (according to Harvard Medical School study - 2015)

Percentage of times the Symptom Checkers gave the correct triage advice (according to Harvard Medical School study - 2015)

Percentage of times the Symptom Checkers correctly recommended emergency care (according to Harvard Medical School study - 2015)

Now What?

Tools & Resources at Your Fingertips

Take Action

Be sure to use the information you collect from the symptom checker to talk with your doctor about your symptoms.

Remember, a symptom checker is a guide and not the final say.  Only a medical professional can diagnose with accuracy and follow that up with specific treatment.

The Isabel Symptom Checker

The Isabel Symptom Checker(c) 2012-13, Isabel Healthcare Limited All rights reserved is easy to use. It’s based on the same system that doctors and nurses have been using worldwide for the past 10 years.   Start by looking at the most common conditions first.

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Additional Valuable Tools & Resources

The Family Doctor Symptom Checker

The FamilyDoctor symptom checker is a flow-chart support guide.   It shares potential diagnoses, based on symptoms, along with self-care instructions.  Urgent conditions are called out for you, indicating when to see your doctor right away.

And, Because PETS are Family Too!

The PetMD Symptom Checker

The PetMD symptom checker for dogs and cats is Veterinarian authored and reviewed.

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