WAMU 88.5 : The Kojo Nnamdi Show

Dot Com v. MD: Health Advice & Resources Online

Three-quarters of Internet users in the U.S. are going online to answer questions about their health. But with hundreds of thousands of health websites, separating the useful and reliable from the questionable and potentially harmful can be a tough task. We look at how Americans are using online health resources and how they're changing the doctor-patient relationship.

Comparing Online Symptom Checkers & Their Medical Diagnoses

Do an Internet search for "symptom checker" and the top results are likely to be WebMD, Mayo Clinic and Drugs.com. Health websites like these yield a list of possible diseases and conditions that match at least one of your symptoms selected from a drop-down menu of factors. Though all include disclaimers about the medical advice given and recommend calling 911 if symptoms worsen or persist, the variety of possible diagnoses can vary widely among the websites.

For example, a search for the possible cause of moderate knee joint pain in a 25 to 34-year-old male turns up eight to 28 different results:

WebMD Mayo Clinic Drugs.com
Repetitive Motion Injuries ACL injury Ankylosing spondylitis
Tendinitis Gout Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury
Pseudogout Osteoarthritis Arthritis associated with Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Septic Arthritis Posterior cruciate ligament injury Bursitis
ACL Injury Pseudogout Chondromalacia
Bursitis (Prepatellar) Rheumatoid arthritis Fibromyalgia
Chondromalacia Patella Septic arthritis Fracture
Gout Sprains and strains Gout
Knee - Meniscus Tear   Joint infection, including Lyme disease
Knee Strain   Knee sprain
Lupus   Osteoarthritis
Lyme Disease   Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury
Obesity   Pseudogout
Osteochondritis Dissecans   Psoriatic arthritis
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome   Reiter's syndrome
Psoriatic Arthritis   Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatic Fever   Spondyloarthropathy
Rheumatoid Arthritis   Tendonitis
Sarcoidosis   Torn meniscus
Sickle Cell Crisis    
Sickle Cell Disease    
Stress Fractures    
Ulcerative Colitis    
Crohn's Disease    
Henoch-Schonlein Purpura    
Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury    
Shingles (Herpes Zoster)  

In another case, trying to diagnosis heart palpitations in a 45 to 54-year-old female can come back with a handful of responses or 17 responses:

WebMD Mayo Clinic Drugs.com
Atrial Fibrillation Atrial fibrillation Sinus tachycardia
Panic Attack Heart arrhythmias Certain types of arrhythmias
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)  
Acute Stress Reaction Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)  
Excessive Caffeine Use    
Heart Rhythm Disorder    
Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)    
Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs)    
Mitral Valve Prolapse    
Aortic Regurgitation    
Atrial Flutter    
Supraventricular Tachycardia    
Thyroid Storm    
Vitamin B12 Deficiency    

Ear pain in a child, however, result in more similar diagnoses across the websites:

WebMD Mayo Clinic Drugs.com
Ear Canal Infection Common Cold Common Cold
Earwax Blockage Ear Infection Fluid In Ears
Middle Ear Infection    
Chronic Sinusitis    
Foreign Object In The Ear Canal    
Respiratory Syncytial Virus    
Ruptured Eardrum    
Swimmer's Ear  
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