Personal symptom checkers have the ability to empower healthcare consumers by creating new avenues through which they can get informed about their current condition. These types of checkers are normally based on logical, data-driven decision trees, which can be very useful if they’re used correctly. On the other hand, they could potentially cause more anxiety and create misunderstandings if they are used incorrectly.

Most checkers will be very clear that they are not meant to provide definitive diagnoses, and they always recommend visiting a medical professional before making any decisions about your healthcare. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages to performing self diagnoses, and it’s important to understand them so you can better interpret your results.

There are two main types of consumer-driven healthcare solutions for self diagnosis. One is through a kind of question/answer session on a website or through an app. The other is at physical kiosks, where you can interact with the process a little more directly.

Websites and Apps

There are many different websites and apps that allow people to input a few symptoms and get some results that could explain their condition.

The Advantages – This is an extremely easy way for someone to start a diagnosis in the privacy of their own home, which makes it completely convenient and anonymous. Sites like WebMD.com have been offering this kind of service for years, and they’ve developed their systems to provide some fairly accurate results after going through a quick, simple discovery process.

The Disadvantages – Access to this kind of information – without the input of an actual doctor – has the potential to increase anxiety and cause undue concern. The problem, frankly, is us. Humans have a tendency to dwell on the worst case scenario, so, if our self diagnosis results in seven different possibilities, there’s a good chance we’ll immediately fixate on the one that says we’re about to die.

The other disadvantage is that we are also prone to misunderstandings if the wording isn’t clear. If you were asked if the pain in your back is a “stabbing pain” or a “sharp pain” would you know the difference? Would it matter? If they asked you to rate the level of the pain, is there any way you could possibly be objective about it? Can you really apply a scale to your pain? We may also fudge the answers we may not want to really accept.

Websites and apps want to include as many possible conditions as possible so they have a better chance of listing the one that fits your situation. This can create a situation in which the more symptoms you add, the more results you’ll get. Compare that to visiting a doctor where the more detailed you can be, the more easily they’ll be able to zero in on your exact condition and exclude the others.

Consumer Kiosks

Modern consumer kiosks can be found in many different high-traffic retail locations, from malls and department stores to corporate campuses and hospitals. They offer a simple interface built on tested and reliable hardware, which may include a wide range of tools to connect with medical professionals.

The Advantages – These machines provide a simple way to physically screen your vision, blood pressure, weight, BMI, and other metrics. In other words, you don’t have to use generalities about your health to get an overview of your condition. The machine will measure it exactly.

Machines like the SoloHealth kiosk can also maintain a database of local doctors, so if the results of the screening suggest immediate action, they can quickly search through their options and choose the one that works for them. This doesn’t imply going in for a specific treatment. A person may simply want to speak with a professional about the results of the diagnosis.

The Disadvantages – There’s still only so much a machine can tell you. It can only provide information and recommendations based on the logic trees that have been programmed into it. They can only give you numbers and tell you which ones fall into the scale that is generally considered “normal.” In truth, you should still see a doctor to get the best possible interpretation of the numbers.

Using Your Knowledge

Both websites/apps and physical kiosks can be a very convenient way to start thinking about your health in greater detail and diagnosing some of your larger concerns. While there are limitations to each type of symptom checker, they can easily provide you with enough foundational information to make better decisions about your healthcare.

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