There’s no doubt that providing accurate, relevant medical information online is a huge challenge. Medicine is complex, and consumers are hungry for information. Health-related forums abound, and roughly 1% of Google searches are symptom-related. Major publishers, health systems, and technology companies have been working for years to deliver quality content to meet the demand, but the results are dubious at best and often downright dangerous.
Just how bad it is it? Our doctors will tell you, it’s actually worse than you’d think.
Say you’re a 35-year old man with moderate low back pain that came on gradually and gets worse when you move. We asked our team of doctors and they agreed the most likely diagnosis for a case like this would be a low back strain. You click through a popular symptom checker to see what it might be, and the top two results are cauda equina, a serious surgical emergency, and lumbar spinal stenosis, a condition that’s extremely rare in men of this age. Tell K about these symptoms, and she’ll show you that 90% of guys at this age with these symptoms had a low back strain.
Ok, so that’s pretty bad. But is it just an isolated case? Unfortunately it’s not.
Say you’re a 30 year old woman with chest tightness that’s been coming on gradually, gets worse with exercise, and affects both sides of your chest. Our doctors agree chest pain should always be taken seriously, but a popular online symptom checker will show you a scary list of different possibilities, including coronary artery disease, muscle strain, heart attack, aortic stenosis, pericarditis, pulmonary fibrosis. All of these except for muscle strain are very unlikely in a 30 year old female. Ask K about these symptoms and you’ll learn that 90% of women at this age had musculoskeletal chest pain, which is not a medical emergency.
Well, what about more basic stuff? Surely they’re getting that right? Nope.
If a 34 year old man with one day of nausea and abdominal pain checks his symptoms, our doctors predicted a diagnosis of gastroenteritis. Instead, he gets intestinal obstruction (a surgical emergency) or lead poisoning. Really? K suggests gastroenteritis or acute food poisoning. If a 29 year old woman indicates bleeding between periods, endometrial cancer is the top result. Say you’re 45 and had your worst headache ever? It’s an aneurysm, a stroke, or cancer according to a site that has virtually none of the information necessary to make such an extreme and frightening conclusion.
Sometimes emergency care is necessary and life-saving. But results like these send people racing to the ER concerned about conditions that are extremely unlikely. K doesn’t hide the potential for scary conditions, and she will let you know if other people like you sought immediate care. But K’s results are different, and so much less alarming, because she’s comparing your symptoms to real cases from people like you. She’s not drawing from static, outdated content or trying to drive clicks for advertisers.
In the real world, such extreme diagnoses are far less common and, statistically, many people like you have had your symptoms before. Wouldn’t it be great to know how they dealt with it? K’s goal is to give you the most accurate information that’s relevant to your case based on the experiences of others. She’ll show you the range of what people like you had and how they treated it in a clinical setting. As an informed patient, you can decide what to do next.
Want to learn more about how she does it? Our Chief Product Officer explains how we built a better health app.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.