Web surfing your symptoms

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It used to be if you felt sick, you called a doctor. But now many people are choosing to surf the web instead, with the help of online symptom checkers. Surprisingly this practice of going online may be just what the doctor ordered.

Once upon a time, physicians worried about patients playing doctor, concerned they might jump to the wrong diagnosis.

"When you go online to self diagnose," said Dr. Dan Feiten, "you're going to websites and using your limited medical knowledge to look at a big list of differential diagnoses and you're immediately going to go to the worst possible situations."

Now many are having a change of heart thanks to new symptom checkers. They were created by the medical community itself and integrated into doctor and hospital websites. Dr. Feiten's pediatric practice has one.

Parents go online to our website to find out whether:

  • They need to make an appointment
  • What do they do in the meantime
  • Do they need to go the emergency department?

Proponents say these new symptom checkers can cut down on office calls and unnecessary trips to the emergency room, as well as save people money on co-pays.

"It gives you peace of mind about knowing what to do," said Jane Thompson, a mother of four. "Because you have something that's told you everybody else has this and don't worry about it, come in in three days."

Dr. Barton Schmitt at Children's Hospital Colorado designed the symptom checker adopted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It won't give you a long list of scary possibilities, but will help you determine what to do next.

"It's based on the medical literature," said Dr. Schmitt. "It's based on national guidelines from American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, other organizations. It's based on reviews by over a hundred expert reviewers."

However, Dr. Christine Laine, senior vice president of the American College of Physicans, said not all medical websites are created equal and it's important people check the source before taking any advice.

"Professional organizations, like the American College of Physicians or reputable patient and consumer groups, should generally be trusted more than information that's coming from an organization that the patient has never heard of," said Dr. Laine.

Dr. Laine adds that even the most reputable resources can't always replace a doctor's personal touch.

"The symptom checkers can't put the information in the context of the patient and their lives, they can't look at how sick the patient is."

Doctors also suggest you look for online information that comes from an impartial source and stay clear of websites that have a vested interest in your treatment.

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