Online health diagnosis tools only accurate around 36 pct of the time: Aussie study

SYDNEY, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Online self-diagnosis tools only get it right about once every three diagnoses given, a new study revealed on Monday, raising serious concerns for those making health decisions based on what their computers tell them.

Researchers from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia studied 36 international mobile and web-based symptom checkers and found that they provide an accurate diagnosis just 36 percent of the time, with 49 percent accuracy on when and where to seek health care.

With approximately 40 percent of Australians checking their health online, lead author of the research, Masters student Michella Hill from ECU said the study should make people think twice before using those tools to treat themselves.

"While it may be tempting to use these tools to find out what may be causing your symptoms, most of the time they are unreliable at best and can be dangerous at worst," Hill said.

The research found that other major issues that need to be addressed included lack of government regulation and the concern that users were given a false sense of security despite the severely limited scope of online tools.

"We've all been guilty of being 'cyberchondriacs' and googling at the first sign of a niggle or headache," Hill said.

"But the reality is these websites and apps should be viewed very cautiously as they do not look at the whole picture - they don't know your medical history or other symptoms."

"For people who lack health knowledge, they may think the advice they're given is accurate or that their condition is not serious when it may be," she added.

Despite the obvious conclusion that online symptom checkers can not replace real doctors, the study's authors found that they may actually have a place in the modern health system.

"These sites are not a replacement for going to the doctor, but they can be useful in providing more information once you do have an official diagnosis," she said.

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