Mom checking a symptom tracker with her phone to care for sick child

eTech Insights – Symptom Checkers: Play Offense, Not Defense

The Problem: Doctor, I Think I Have This Disease!

A well-designed symptom checker is a tool that leverages evidence-based medicine guidelines, predictive data analytics, oversight by experienced physicians, and machine learning algorithms to provide information on potential illnesses that a person may have. Consumers and patients enter their phenotype data along with their symptom data into the more sophisticated applications, which in turn provide suggested illnesses. Symptom checkers are not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Most physicians have stories about patients who come to their offices with information that they suspect was derived from symptom checkers. This is usually not a good scenario for the physician, who may have to spend additional time assessing the patient to determine what the real problem is. The symptom checker information may be accurate in some cases, and that may also present problems for the physicians who feel threatened by a loss of control during their assessment and diagnosis procedures[1].

The challenge for providers is that consumers will continue to increase their usage of these tools as access to care continues to decline and consumers are expected to manage more of their healthcare experience. Creating proactive strategies and policies for interacting with symptom checkers and integrating them into the provider’s care delivery environment is likely to have a positive impact on patient engagement. Enabling consumers to be proactive in their care is a great foundation for reducing care delivery costs and improving outcomes.

The Solution: Integrated with Patient Portals

Several symptom checkers are available on the web, and that poses the challenge of assessing which ones are the most accurate and respected by medical experts[2]. Some of these solutions are certified as Class 1 medical devices, certified for EU General Data Protection Regulation, or reviewed and recommended by leading medical journals. Before moving forward with a symptom checker strategy, it is important to have the medical staff review and identify potential solutions that they would feel comfortable with their patients using.

Some of these solutions are designed with chatbot interfaces, while some provide integration with smart home device platforms (e.g., Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana). The ability to integrate a symptom checker approved by the medical staff into the provider’s patient portal will likely create a new level of stickiness for the portal[3]. Symptom checkers that are well regarded by an organization’s physician staff need to be promoted to the provider’s patient populations to extend engagement and higher levels of service.

Once a symptom checker has been approved for enterprise use, strategies for patient portal integration need to be established. Solutions with chatbot capabilities may be appealing for extending the patient portal capabilities to smartphones. Moving forward with symptom checkers also requires physician training for how to best interact with the patients who will use those tools. It may be wise to identify a specific service or patient population for the initial rollout in order to minimize adoption risk.

The Justification: Resistance is Futile

Consumers, especially Generation X, millennial, and Generation Z groups, will continue to drive the use of symptom checkers to evaluate their health issues. Providers who do not embrace the use of symptom checkers that are shown to be proven or reliable by their patients will likely be given lower satisfaction ratings. This does not mean that these tools will replace the medical expertise and guidance of physicians. Correctly integrating these tools for supporting patient care results in a well-positioned process will support effective communications and interactions between physicians and their patients.

Evaluating and selecting a symptom checker solution for enterprise use will enable more effective guidance for patients that use these tools.

The Players: A Diverse Cast of Characters

Symptom checkers that are highly tested and reviewed by medical experts are provided by well-known medical systems, professional associations, and healthcare content providers. A representative list of solutions includes:

Success Factors

  1. Select a key group of medical staff in the enterprise to review and evaluate symptom checkers for use across the enterprise.
  2. Integrate the symptom checker into the patient portal and review chatbot interface capabilities to drive higher levels of engagement.
  3. Establish physician training on how to use the symptom checker information during patient engagements.
  4. Create procedures to help physicians promote the use of these symptom checkers with their patients.

Summary

Symptom checker use by consumers will not only continue but will likely grow exponentially over the next few years. International studies of these tools identify increased usage by younger consumers and higher satisfaction from the health services supported by these tools[4].

Provider organizations that do not pursue a strategy for integrating proven and defensible symptom checkers into their patient engagement strategies are missing a key component for driving higher levels of patient engagement and satisfaction.

Consumer challenges regarding timely access to primary care providers and the need for consumers to take more responsibility for their healthcare services will drive increased use of these tools by consumers. Failure to appropriately integrate symptom checker tools and their information into the care delivery process will likely make a provider organization less competitive as the industry transitions to patient-focused healthcare.

The course of action is clear for provider organizations—take the offensive for deploying and using symptom checkers to support primary care services.



[3] https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20190223/TRANSFORMATION01/190229992/sutter-health-s-online-symptom-checker-aims-to-provide-care-at-the-right-time-place






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