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Invited Commentary
April 11, 2019

The Inaccuracy of Ocular Online Symptom Checkers—Googlers Beware

Author Affiliations
  • 1Northern California Retina Vitreous Associates, Mountain View, California
  • 2Department of Ophthalmology, University of California, San Francisco
JAMA Ophthalmol. 2019;137(6):693. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2019.0580

More and more Americans turn to “Dr Google” and other sources on the internet for health-related information. One report stated that 6 of 10 patients used the internet for an immediate health issue before asking a health care professional that question.1 The internet offers instant access to vast amounts of information easily. Online symptom checkers (OSCs) have been a popular internet destination to self-diagnose medical conditions. Using computerized algorithms, OSCs ask users a series of questions and generate a differential diagnosis. Online symptom checkers serve 2 functions: to facilitate in self-diagnosis and assist in triaging the patient. For urgent cases, the OSCs may spur patients to seek care. For minor diagnoses, patients may be advised to not urgently come to the office or the emergency department and reduce unnecessary visits. To accomplish these goals, the assumption is that the OSC program is accurate. If that is not the case, the tools may lead to inappropriate use of health resources and poor outcomes.

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