Symptom checker: How accurate is Google? Can it diagnose you?

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Symptom checking is an often ill-advised move for people concerned about their health. Most illnesses have many potential causes and varying effects, meaning it is often impossible for checkers to provide a reliable conclusion. Often, they may cause significant concern with a severe diagnosis, causing intense stress for what, in reality, is a run-of-the-mill issue.

How accurate is Google for symptom checking?

Google hosts sites from everywhere and will direct people looking for symptoms to millions of potential checkers.

Whether these sites help or cause anxiety depends on their following, and people may end up finding symptoms on a site that confirms their worst fears.

Those with health anxiety may find this worsens their quality of life as frequent searching causes frequent emotional discomfort.

In reality, most conditions aren’t as severe as they may seem.

According to experts, people should avoid Google for symptom checking.

Reece Samani, Founder of Signature Pharmacy, said Google should not act as their sole avenue for a check-up.

Instead, people should consult a professional if symptoms concern them.

He said: “As a healthcare professional, I usually advise against Googling symptoms.

“Google is a search engine designed to show you websites that are relevant to your search terms.

“Websites ranked highest are traditionally those that pay to be at the top of work to build up their website ranking; they aren’t necessarily diagnosis to your symptoms.

“Googling symptoms can cause further anxiety around your symptoms; this is because similar symptoms can be associated with a wide range of different conditions, and you should seek a check-up with a practitioner for an accurate diagnosis.”

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“Further, in some cases, you may require medication, and these would need to be prescribed by your doctor.”

Scientists have backed up claims symptom checkers are often inaccurate.

A systematic review conducted by Sheffield University researchers and published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) analysed symptom checkers and health assessment services for urgent health problems.

Their analysis of the diagnostic method concluded the checkers were “poor in absolute terms”.

They touched on one study conducted by Hannah Semigran and her team at Harvard Medical School, which found they were correct 34 percent of the time across 770 standard patient evaluations.

The study added performance tended to vary significantly between diagnostic platforms.

They also varied depending on the condition type, whether ordinary or rare.

Ultimately, doctors were most likely to get the correct diagnosis first.

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