Traffic. Recipes. Working out. Music. There’s an app for that. There’s actually probably a little square that you can download onto your phone that can assist you with most of the things that you do.
There’s even apps that can check your medical symptoms and provide a list of potential conditions or diagnoses. Though this technology is only intended to give users more information about their symptoms and offer potential answers, some users are treating these analyses as they would a doctor’s evaluation, even though they are only accurate close to half the time.
While they are more precise than a casual internet search, the purpose of symptom checkers is not to diagnose, but to enable a patient to ask better questions when they do go to the doctor, ultimately leading to better results.
Creators of these apps and sites acknowledge that they aren’t meant to replace actual medical care or give a legitimate diagnosis. (Just getting the actual diagnosis in the top 20 suggestions is considered pretty good.) However, they can’t control how people are using them, which is where the danger lies.
Similarly, apps that offer do-it-yourself vision exams are causing some concern. According to a recent study, less than 1% of employers plan to offer vision insurance to their employees in the next 12 months. Developers are aiming to fill this void with the self-serve exams, some that even provide a diagnosis and a printable prescription despite the fact that they may lack the proper medical supervision, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). Without regulation, users could be walking away with an incorrect diagnosis. The AOA is calling for stronger regulation of these self-exams.
Again, some of the vision apps recognize that it’s important to go to an optometrist as well, but there is no way to ensure that visit is happening.
Appealing in their convenience and ability to save time, apps and websites like those mentioned above are obviously gaining traction in our increasingly technology-driven world. And if everyone was simply using them as an additional resource, there would be little to worry about. But there’s no way to prevent people from relying solely on these digital diagnoses.
The bottom line is that these methods cannot replace an exam with an actual physician and should not be depended on for concrete diagnoses. While innovative and helpful, computer programs cannot offer the abundance of knowledge, experience and diligence that a true doctor examination can provide.
Key take away: don’t skip needed medical care just because there’s an app for that.