Chances are, you've felt sick and decided to Google your symptoms instead of making a trip to the doctor's. But conducting online research about your potential health conditions can be daunting, and the results are often impersonal and inaccurate.
Sharecare, the Atlanta-based digital platform for expert health information, is trying to help consumers take the guesswork out of at-home diagnoses with AskMD, a free, iOS 7-exclusive app out today. The app takes you through a highly personalized, step-by-step consultation that narrows down your possible health conditions to the best possible matches for you.
"There are other symptom checkers out there, but it's like you answer two questions and it gives you the top 80 things that I and every other woman in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 65 may have," says Sharecare's chief doctor and executive vice president of clinical strategy, Darria Long Gillespie. "People are eating it up, because that's the best that exists right now. But it's really pretty mediocre as far as anything personalized."
Each feature in AskMD is designed to make the app experience feel like a mini, virtual trip to the doctor's office. A home screen greets you in a conversational tone and prompts you to describe what's wrong. From there, AskMD will guide you through a series of targeted questions with the goal of matching your symptoms to just a handful of possible causes (rather than 80). The app asks fairly specific questions about when your symptoms began and how bad your pain is on a scale of 1 to 10, mimicking those your real-life doctor is trained to ask you during a visit.
AskMD also considers factors like your age, gender, height, and weight, as well as your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and current medication when coming up with possible causes. The app supports multiple profiles, which means caregivers with children or who work with the elderly can consult for others in addition to themselves.
AskMD isn't simply about finding your likeliest diagnosis. Once you've used AskMD to flag down a probable cause for your symptoms, the app will guide you through a "Find Physicians" option that helps you find a doctor based on your location and health insurance provider. The "Find Physicians" option is also key to AskMD's plan to monetize the app by selling sponsorships to hospitals and medical organizations in exchange for promoted placement.
Although AskMD is designed for everyday consumers, it's powered by medical diagnosis software originally created for use by military doctors, as well as a database of the industry's top journals and textbooks, and constantly updated physician guidelines.
But Long Gillespie, Sharecare's chief doctor, says AskMD isn't meant to be a substitute for your physician's professional care—after all, it's an app.
"[AskMD] does not include a physical examination or EKGs or lab tests, things I would have at my power if I were testing you in the office," she says. "That's a strict limitation, so we don't try to give one single diagnosis.
Beyond the desire to help users demystify their immediate symptoms, Long Gillespie and Toni Pashley, Sharecare's VP of product and user experience, also hope AskMD will pique consumers' interest in finding out more about their health history, inspiring them to take greater control of their health information in the process.
"When you get into the physician's office we want to be able to make you feel empowered and give you the right questions, making you a better historian about your health," Pashley says.
[Image: Flickr user Senicus Tiber]