I am going to start off by saying that I have nothing against symptom checkers. Many a time one has reassured me that even though I feel like I’m dying, I really do only have a cold. But even then I still go to a doctor to confirm it. Even the sites themselves say that they can’t replace doctors. So why then do people still try to use them as such? Here are three things that doctors do that a website can’t.
A doctor can find symptoms that you miss. They can do things like look down your throat and in your ears which isn’t all that easy for you to do yourself. They can take samples and cultures and tell you definitively what it is that is wrong with you and give you a prescription. You could really only just have a cold or you could have the flu and the only way you can know for sure is if you talk to a professional in person.
A doctor knows you. They know your history, what illnesses you have gotten before and what your family has a history of. If you have a history of cancer in your family, then your doctor can take that into account. If you have any allergies or a compromised immune system they can work with that as well. A computer program doesn’t have all of that information and will only be able to go with what you give them.
These websites try to offer as wide a range of possibilities as they can. They can’t control what you do with the results. So what happens if you jump to the worst of the options? You might have the worst, it is possible. But you could have just convinced yourself you have Tuberculosis when it’s really a cold. And what if you think you just have a cold when it really could be something much worse. While that is a more extreme example, for someone with hypochondria, it is a very real possibility.
With that said, these symptom checkers do have benefits. Some have notifications that pop up to inform you when you note certain symptoms, or if the symptoms persist for longer than a certain length of time, to call emergency services immediately. They also have printouts that you can bring with you to your doctor’s visit with you. They list your symptoms so that it will be easier for you to explain everything and get the most of your visit. Web checkers are not evil. They can be helpful and useful and can give you a starting point. Just remember that the only way you can know for sure is to go to a doctor.