4 Free Tools for Playing Doctor

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Health care providers support these apps and websites for helping diagnose your health problems.

We can’t exactly say that four out of five doctors recommend online symptom checkers, but some health care providers do.

Anybody can drop some symptoms into their favorite search engine and get back a list of possible causes. That information can be useful or completely off base, and in either case may leave some people feeling like they’re at death’s door. It worries physicians, too.

“[It] can be alarming for doctors, especially if patients show up armed with a scary list of unlikely maladies from the Internet, demanding expensive and unnecessary tests,” The Wall Street Journal says. More than 40 percent of Americans feel comfortable using websites to check symptoms, according to a recent survey the WSJ cites. About a quarter say they use them instead of visiting their doctor — which can create the opposite problem, where patients rule out a real health risk without seeing a pro.

But some of these websites have gotten a lot better over time, and some physicians are developing tools of their own. Results can be incorporated into electronic medical records, save everyone time at the doctor’s office, and help physicians think of things they hadn’t considered, the WSJ says.

  • Isabel Symptom Checker. This free Web tool is recommended by Omaha Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, and has both Android and Apple apps. Rather than asking users to choose from a list of symptoms, it asks them to type in as many as they want, using “medical terms as far as possible.”
  • Mayo Clinic has developed its own symptom checker. It’s free, and requires users to look up a specific symptom by name and then look at a list of possible causes, which may mean manually cross-referencing multiple symptoms.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has a symptom checker to help parents decide whether their child needs to see a physician. It starts by asking users to click on an image of a child to identify the part of the body where symptoms are located, which leads to a list of related medical topics.
  • ITriage is a Web tool owned by insurer Aetna. It has an app for Apple and Android devices. It’s similar to the American Academy of Pediatrics checker, although it loads everything on the same page so backtracking from a bad lead is a little easier. It can also help find local medical facilities.

If you already know that you need serious treatment but you’re not sure where to go, check out the video below for advice on picking the best hospital.

Do you use any symptom checkers? Which one has worked best for you? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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