Symptom Checkers. Do they work?

It’s 2 am. You wake up with a headache and a burning sensation in your chest. It could be a stroke, or maybe lung cancer, or Ebola. You stumble from bed to the computer and look up your symptoms. What you ascertain is this: you are certainly dying and you are dying today. It’s the big one. Here I come, Elizabeth!

symptom checker sick in bed 292x300 Symptom Checkers. Do they work? PhotoAfter a few minutes of reading, however, you come upon some less disturbing information. Your symptoms may actually be from heartburn and acid reflux caused by the pulled pork sandwich you had for dinner. You take an antacid and the symptoms dissipate for the moment.

In a perfect world, you just saved yourself an expensive trip to the ER. This is how a Symptom Checker can help you. If you are confused about symptoms (without being prone to hypochondria), these online services can be helpful.

According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 5 Americans visit the ER each year. Most of these are weekend or after-hour visits, when the family doctor isn’t available. Most people who visit the ER are insured, especially those who receive Medicaid. However, the NY Times reports that those who are newly insured under the Affordable Care Act are now causing a spike in ER Visits.

It has been reported that 70 percent of ER visits are actually unnecessary, and tend to be for non-life threatening conditions. Most of us have probably wasted a Saturday afternoon in a hospital waiting room hoping to get antibiotics only to be told you have a cold that will go away on its own.

Of course, there are plenty of valid reasons to visit an ER. Every 25-seconds, for example, a child between the ages of 6 and 19 ends up in the hospital with a sports-related injury. Meanwhile, lacerations with knives are so common that some even have their own acronyms. BRI, for example, stands for “Bagel-Related Injury,” and it’s the fifth most common kitchen injury.

Lacerations and broken bones are obvious, visible reasons to go to the ER. Less obvious reasons, however, may still be a sign of a very underlying issue. This is where a Symptom Checker can come in handy. If you can wait until your doctor’s office opens on Monday morning, a Symptom Checker could save you time and money.

Many urban areas now have 24-hour walk in clinics for non-urgent situations such as flu-like symptoms. These are generally cheaper and faster solutions, so you can leave the hospital waiting room free for actual emergencies.

If you really feel like something is wrong, of course, don’t spend your time Googling your first heart attack: get to the ER immediately.