A recent poll conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the University of Phoenix illustrates how important it is to provide consumers with the best possible medical and health information.  They deserve the same highly vetted information tools that are made available to clinicians, but presented in lay terms. According to the poll, which involved 2,006 U.S. adults, of those surveyed, 1,215 had been a patient in the last three months. Three interesting points were made:

  • Eighty-six percent of respondents said they feel the more information they can provide about their condition, the better treatment they'll receive from their healthcare professional.
  • Seventy-five percent of respondents said they research their condition before a hospital visit.
  • Fifty-nine percent of respondents said new technology and self-diagnosing tools such as wearables, websites and online chats make them feel more empowered about their personal health.

This tells us, at least in one survey, that consumers are readily embracing information that they may be getting from online sources such as symptom checkers and care direction tools.

There has been great interest in consumer health tools and many entrants into the growing and crowded field, using the latest user interfaces like bots and voice and tout Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing (shiny objects), and they look appealing. 

The most important component of the tool is the foundation/engine. What can be easily overlooked is actual accuracy of the tools, which is dependent on the clinical engine foundation.  This should be a wakeup call for organizations looking to provide online resources to their patients, consumers and members to not chase the newest shiny objects, but to focus on the foundation and clinical engine of those tools. 

If the underlying clinical engine is untested and not validated, then nothing else matters. Tools that are not rigorously validated can end up providing erroneous condition information and/or inaccurate care recommendations. All engines are not created equal and it is imperative for healthcare organizations to cut through the shiny objects, perform a thorough due diligence review and provide their patients and consumers with trusted, vetted content.

If the underlying clinical engine is untested and not validated, then nothing else matters. Tools are not rigorously validated can end up providing erroneous condition information and/or inaccurate care recommendations.

The clinical engine and its peer reviewed validation is even more important in those tools that provide self or computer-generated diagnosis, which then drives the care direction. This is particularly troublesome with tools that only cover a limited number of symptoms and a limited number of conditions and chief complaints. Should a patient be put into a position to self-diagnose or should the tool consider all the symptoms entered and responses to questions related to overall symptom onset and impact to get the patient to the most appropriate level of care they are seeking?

The engine should support any workflow that the organization wants or needs with an API (Application Programming Interface), so it can be ‘white labeled’ for the organization ensuring a consistent user experience. From website access, patient portal access, app, chatbot or voice, these user experiences should be supported by a solid foundation.  A medically vetted engine should be able to drive all of these consumer experiences, as one size does not fit all.

Healthcare organizations can start their investigation of these types of tools by asking these five basic questions:

  1. Is the engine independently medically validated?
  2. Has the engine been peer reviewed in published studies?  If so, how many?
  3. How broad are the range of conditions covered by the engine? 
  4. How broad are the range of symptoms covered by the engine?
  5. Does the vender have a published API to incorporate the tool into all my workflows and user experience platforms?

Consumer tools have the potential to really shift the cost curve, get patients to the correct venue of care and improve outcomes and satisfaction for both the patient and provider, if done thoughtfully. Now more than ever, healthcare organizations need to pay close attention to the foundation when considering consumer-facing tools and not be blinded by the shiny objects.

Take a deeper dive into the world of symptom checkers and triage tools and download our complimentary white paper “Enabling Patient Engagement with a Symptom Checker,” to learn how symptom checkers can help to achieve true patient engagement.