Doctors Better Diagnosticians Than Symptom-Checker Programs

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Doctors Better Diagnosticians Than Symptom-Checker Programs
Doctors Better Diagnosticians Than Symptom-Checker Programs

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 12, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Physicians are twice as likely to get the right diagnosis on the first try as 23 popular symptom-checking computer programs, according to a research letter published online Oct. 11 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study involved 234 physicians and 23 computer symptom checkers. They were presented with 45 vignettes involving hypothetical patients and were asked to determine the illness each person likely had. The symptom checkers included web offerings from places like the Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and England's National Health Service, as well as apps for iPhone and Android smartphones.

Doctors provided the correct diagnosis immediately 72.1 percent of the time, compared with just 34.0 percent of the time for symptom-checking programs, the researchers found. Physicians also outperformed computers when given the chance to provide three suspected diagnoses. The correct diagnosis was in their top-three list 84.3 percent of the time for doctors, and 51.2 percent of the time for system-checking programs. For simpler health problems such as conjunctivitis and sinusitis, computers guessed right 40.5 percent of the time, compared with 65.3 percent of the time for physicians. Human doctors performed three times as well for very complicated health problems, getting the diagnosis right 79.1 percent of the time, compared with 24.3 percent of the time for the computer.

"While in this project we compared diagnostic performance, future work should test whether computer algorithms can augment physician diagnostic accuracy," the authors write.

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