According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Americans spent $3.5 trillion on health services in 2017. This averaged $10,739 per person. Fortune estimated that by 2018, this grew to $3.65 trillion. Health care spending grew in 2014 and continued to expand as a result of increased insurance coverage under the Obama administration. Even so, these trends reflects how expensive health care is overall in America.
To help reduce costs, many Americans use medical diagnosis apps to self-diagnose their health conditions. Some parents also use these apps to diagnose their kids. Should you?
In one Leapsmag feature story, a bioengineer describes how her own experiences with a urinary tract infection inspired her to create an app for screening. The app is FDA-cleared and uses a smartphone to read results from the same types of paper test strips found in labs and ERs.
Ada Health is another medical diagnosis app that has gained traction around the world. The developers told Parentology, “Ada Health combines collective medical knowledge with intelligent technology to help all people actively manage their health. … In peer-reviewed research, Ada detected rare diseases faster than doctors.”
While it may sound otherwise, developers at Ada say they do not intend to replace doctors. Instead, they aim to help save time by reducing the 30% of efforts they believe doctors spend on unnecessary medical services.
Still, many medical doctors caution patients against relying on medical diagnosis apps. An article in the New York Times cites research stating that the apps are often inaccurate. Believing the wrong diagnosis could do a person more harm than good.
Dr. Anthony Kouri is an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. He shares with Parentology, “A study conducted by Harvard in 2015 showed that diagnosis apps had matched the symptoms with their top diagnosis one-third of the time — a little over half the time the correct diagnosis was in the top three diagnoses. Contrarily, studies have shown that physicians make the correct diagnosis 85-90% of the time.”
Dr. Christopher Zoumalan, a Beverly-Hills-based board-certified oculoplastic surgeon, agrees. He says, “If you are concerned about a medical condition, it’s important to seek the advice of a medical professional. An app that helps you self-diagnose your symptoms does not replace a doctor’s examination. Doctors have received many years of training to help diagnose medical conditions, and in ways that you may not identify accurately when using such apps.”
The Bottom Line
Kouri believes that medical diagnosis apps can become a double-edged sword. These apps provide patients with access to what he believes is an excellent source of information. Even so, they can also lead to misinformation and unnecessary anxiety, especially when parents use these apps to diagnose children.
He cautions patients to remember the complex nature of the body and its functions. Whereas doctors receive special training to identify critical symptoms, patients may easily misinterpret the signs. Subsequently, while apps may prove helpful, they cannot replace the knowledge, skills, and real-world experiences of a medical practitioner.
Medical Diagnosis Apps Sources
CMS: National Health Expenditures 2017 Highlights
Fortune: U.S. Health Care Costs Skyrocketed to $3.65 Trillion in 2018
Leapsmag: Diagnosed by App: Medical Testing in the Palm of Your Hand
BMC: Can a Decision Support System Accelerate Rare Disease Diagnosis? Evaluating the Potential Impact of Ada DX in a Retrospective Study
New York Times: Using the Web or an App Instead of Seeing a Doctor? Caution Is Advised
Anthony Kouri, MD, University of Toledo Medical Center
Christopher Zoumalan, MD FACS