If Dr. Google is your primary-care physician, you might wanna rethink your healthcare game plan.
An Australian study of 36 web and app symptom checkers found their free advice came at price: They were usually wrong, delivering the right diagnosis as the top result just 36% of the time. Those using artificial intelligence got better results, with a correct diagnosis 46% of the time, compared with 32% for checkers using different methods.
Overall, the correct answer was among the top three choices 52% of the time.
“For people who lack health knowledge, they may think the advice they’re given is accurate or that their condition is not serious when it may be,” Michella Hill, lead author of the study and a graduate student at Edith Cowan University, said in a news release.
“We’ve all been guilty of being ‘cyberchondriacs’ and googling at the first sign of a niggle or headache,” Hill said. “But the reality is these websites and apps should be viewed very cautiously as they do not look at the whole picture—they don’t know your medical history or other symptoms.”
The study was published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
The authors didn’t totally discount using Dr. Google. The services delivered accurate triage advice about 60% of the time. “These sites are not a replacement for going to the doctor, but they can be useful in providing more information once you do have an official diagnosis,” Hill said. “While it may be tempting to use these tools to find out what may be causing your symptoms, most of the time they are unreliable at best and can be dangerous at worst.”