Better call the doctor...

2012-08-08 - Travis Dunn

Imagine this scenario: You've had a sore throat for five days now, and today you woke up with a fever as well. You, like everyone else, will probably go online to find out more about your symptoms before seeing a doctor. You end up on a consumer website, social networking site, or some other platform that is packed with a huge amount of information about diseases and treatments. But you, like the majority of people, will probably find little to no answer to your questions. Why is that?

First, does this sound familiar? You enter 'sore throat and fever' in a search bar and find out you probably have to say goodbye to your family soon or have a lifetime of medical treatment ahead of you. Medical information online is scary, and there is a simple reason for it. The liability issues of not listing every diagnosis associated with a sore throat aside, the information you just got is not applicable to you; young, old, man, woman, healthy or sick, everyone just gets the same generic information. If, by some stroke of luck, you find a snippet of text that applies to your situation, a doctor probably didn’t check it, nor does it adhere to any medical guideline.

We do have to take some responsibility ourselves for getting scared. You probably thought of one or two diagnoses on your own, ended up comparing your symptoms to the list of symptoms you see on your screen, and thought: 'Two of the symptoms match. Good chance I have this disease!'. Your doctor, however, takes a somewhat different approach. He reasons by making a list of so-called differential diagnoses, based on your symptoms, and ordering them by likelihood based on age, history, et cetera; and finally, by asking you questions and examining you, ends up making a reliable diagnosis.

But most people have no way to do this themselves; most of us didn't go to medical school, and there is no online system that is able to mimic this process for us. Many websites try by listing all differential diagnoses based on some basic questions. This leaves you with a set of diseases to plough through, all of which can't be ruled out unless you see a doctor. Scary stuff, better call the doctor in the morning...

Recent Dutch research shows most doctor consults outside office hours are medically unnecessary, and that 50% of them take place because the patient is worried, or his own doctor wasn't available. Of course those consults were useful, because the doctor took away people's worries. However, if these patients get good guidance at a distance, unnecessary consults can be prevented.

We believe it is possible to give you the right personal information about your symptoms and support you in making the right decisions. There are clear guidelines doctors and assistants use to triage and diagnose a patient. By combining them with medical databases and the opinion of a pool of doctors, we can create an online system that gives very straightforward answers to the questions that someone really has about their medical complaints: Is it serious? Should I see a doctor now? What can I do myself? What would the doctor think of first? These answers will not replace going to the doctor, but it will give you everything you need to manage the time between now and when you see a doctor.

Our main goal is to change online medical information. We focus on providing reliable and safe medical information, which is only applicable to you, and available at any hour. We start small; Earlydoc is now available for two symptoms: sore throat and cough. In the near future, the most common symptoms will be added.

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