Feel Good

Feel Good Report: The Problem with Symptom-Checker Websites

Admit it ... you've used WebMD. But should you have?

BY July 16, 2015


Maybe the Internet shouldn’t be the first place to go when you’re feeling ill.

Harvard Medical School researchers found that FreeMd, WebMd and other symptom-checking websites were largely inaccurate. In fact, of the 23 sites tested, a patient’s illness was correctly identified only about one-third of the time. And, only about half of the time did the web checks list the correct malady in the top 20 possibly diagnoses. 

The Washington Post compiled a table of which online tools were the most accurate. (Symcat wins the most accurate award, for what it’s worth.)

The researchers note that the symptom-checker sites can be more useful than simply using a search engine to try to pinpoint a problem. But, given the inaccuracy, the sites can lead to self-misdiagnosis that only creates or confounds the problem.