Google, M.D.

The internet is reliable for some things, but when you want to find out what’s making you feel sick, you’re generally better off with your doctor than with a medical website or smartphone app. That’s the diagnosis of a study by Harvard Medical School that was recently written up in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal.

The research involved 234 physicians and 23 diagnostic tools offered by websites run by the Mayo Clinic and Web MD, along with apps for the iPhone and Android smartphones. Given 45 hypothetical patients and their symptoms, the human doctors got the correct diagnosis right away in 72% of the cases, while the computerized symptom checkers were accurate only 34% of the time.

When asked to provide not one, but three possible diagnoses, physicians again outperformed their technological counterparts, hitting the right diagnosis with their top three 84% of the time. Websites and apps found the correct diagnosis just 51% of the time.

So although you might be tempted to just Google your symptoms and head to the drugstore, most of the time you’re better off making an appointment with your doctor.

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