[June 14, 2007 @ 11:19 am] David Hogberg

Last week I read Dr. Wes’s test run of iVillage’s new Symptom Solver which can help patients figure out what ailment they might have based on their symptoms. Dr. Wes was a bit dismissive, saying “It seems that medicine can really be reduced to 20 questions!”

He then tried to use Symptom Solver to see if it could diagnose some pretty complicated diseases. Needless to say, it didn’t do to well.

Now, I’m not knocking Dr. Wes for this; it is good to know the limitations of something like Symptom Solver. However, this is a first attempt by the market to bring easy access to medical information for the consumer. Just like we don’t expect most freshmen to be able to do advanced calculus, maybe we shouldn’t expect the first iteration of something like Symptom Solver to be able to diagnose more exotic conditions.

Thus, I gave it a try to see if it could diagnose one of my ailments. After enetering my gender and age range on the first page, the web site directed me to the symptoms page. I didn’t see anything that fit, so I had to select “View Symptoms A-Z”. It took a little searching, but I eventually found something that fit.

After answering a number of questions, it gave me a list of ailments that I might possibly have, with acid reflux disease being the most likely. And that, indeed, is what I have.

So, it seems to me that for ailments that aren’t that complicated, Symptom Solver does work. Of course, it can’t replace the skill of a health-care professional, but we shouldn’t expect it too.

Nor should we expect efforts like this to yield amazing results right out of the gate. Consumer-driven health care is in its infancy, and Symptom Solver isn’t bad for a first try. Let’s give it some time to grow.

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