Primary care docs outperform symptom-checking apps – but some apps come close

A study published earlier this month in BMJ Open found that primary care practitioners outperformed eight symptom-checking apps when it came to the diagnostic accuracy and safety of the advice.

The study found that apps varied substantially in their metrics, but noted that the best performing ones came close to general practitioners in including the correct diagnosis among their top 3 and top 5 suggestions. 

“The nature of iterative improvements to software suggests that further improvements will occur with experience and additional evaluation studies,” wrote the research team.

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To evaluate the apps and the providers, scientists created 200 clinical vignettes, designed to include both common and less-common conditions relevant to primary care practice. These conditions were created to represent real-world situations in which someone might seek medical information or advice from an app or a physician.

The vignettes included a patient’s age and sex, previous medical history, the primary complaint, current symptoms, and information to be provided “if asked” by the app or the provider. They were externally reviewed by two separate panels of three primary care practitioners, who set the “gold-standard” main diagnosis