For a nation of “do-it-yourself” types, the internet is the world’s greatest toolbox. So much information is available online at the click of a mouse. It can be tempting to do a little googling, download some instructions, and handle that home improvement project, car repair, or other problem by yourself rather than going through the hassle and cost of hiring someone do it for you.


But while that “DIY” spirit may be great for figuring out why your sink faucet drips and how to fix it, using the internet to diagnose or treat a health problem is another matter entirely. The downside of getting your household repair wrong may be a small mess and some extra cost, but the consequences of relying on an incorrect medical diagnosis or other health information from a website, without following up with a physician, could be catastrophic.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people visit medical websites or online symptom checkers every single day to try to find out why they feel the way they do, what the problem might be, and how to fix it. The problem is that these sites don’t have the best record of getting things right.

The Facts About Online Medical Symptom Checkers

A comprehensive 2015 study of online symptom checkers by researchers at Harvard Medical School found these sites to be of dubious reliability. The researchers created a list of common symptoms based on 45 medical conditions. They then put these symptoms into 23 popular medical websites used in the United States and three European countries. The results:

  • The sites provided the correct diagnosis on the first try only one-third of the time.
  • The top three suggestions included the correct diagnosis only about half of the time.
  • The top 20 suggestions only raised the rate of correct diagnoses to 58 percent.

Someone who punches their symptoms into an online diagnostic tool can make a number of different decisions based on that information. But if the information is incorrect, those decisions can leave a severe condition unidentified and untreated. Conversely, if the wrong diagnosis identifies the root of the problem as a serious condition, such as cancer, it can produce paralyzing and unwarranted anxiety.

That is not to say that sites such as WebMD are of no value to patients. Most doctors will tell you that it helps to have informed patients with information that can help them formulate helpful questions, better identify their symptoms, and ultimately prompt them to see a doctor. It is that last step which is key. Educating yourself about your possible ailments online is no substitute for an actual medical diagnosis and a course of treatment based on an accurate identification of the problem.

Consult a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

Of course, doctors can also get diagnoses wrong, and often do. A 2014 study in the medical journal BMJ Quality & Safety found that approximately 12 million adults are misdiagnosed in the U.S. every year. When patients suffer because doctors and other healthcare professionals breach the standard of care and make a misdiagnosis, the medical malpractice attorneys at Sommers Schwartz stand ready to hold them accountable.

Please contact us today for a free consultation to review your case.

Richard L. Groffsky

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Richard L. Groffsky

Richard Groffsky focuses his practice on medical malpractice and personal injury litigation, and has represented victims of devastating brain injuries and birth injuries in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, South Carolina, and Georgia in significant brain injury and birth injury cases.