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How the Internet Can Make You Think You're Dying

Do you immediately run to the internet after a cough? Chances are your self-diagnosis doesn't help.

We’ve all done it—looked up some symptom on a medical site and found the worst possible diagnosis: pain in the side? Must be cancer. Persistent headache? Definitely a brain tumor.

That’s not to say med sites can’t be useful—and probably even save lives. But how accurate are they really?

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To find out, Harvard Med School researchers audited 23 online symptom-checkers. Result: Overall, the sites got a diagnosis right on the first try just 34% of the time. But they did get it right in three tries 51% of the time. And their advice on whether to go to the hospital or treat a symptom at home was correct 57% of the time.

The highest-rated sites were Symcat (71% right in three tries), Isabel (69%), and AskMD (68%). So next time you’re terrified you’re about to “check out,” check those sites out first.


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