The Doctor is ... YOU! Online Medical Symptom Checkers Examined

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Revolution Health

My take: Here you're greeted with a standard (if rather ape-like) interactive human body map. But it operates a little differently.

Clicking on "Leg, Hip, Knee and Foot" and then "Toe, Foot and Ankle Injuries" brings up an overview page with all kinds of possibilities, some of which are categorized as "acute injury" or "overuse injuries." There are eight main acute possibilities and five under overuse, with plantar fasciitis No. 4 under overuse injuries.

But scroll down and things get weird.

Under a heading of "Check Your Symptoms" are a number of additional questions. One asks "Are you unable to free a trapped foot from an object, such as a pipe, toy or jar?" Another asks "Is an object, such as a nail, embedded in your toe, foot or ankle?" Answering "yes" brings up a page telling you how soon you should contact a medical professional.

I don't know about you, but if my foot is stuck in a pipe or has a nail sticking out of it, I'm thinking my first impulse isn't to go online to see what the problem might be and what I should do about it. I'm pretty sure I could muster up an accurate self-diagnosis here.

Giving credit where it's due, the site does go on to suggest calling a health professional immediately if -- and this is an actual example the site uses -- a high-pressure nail gun fired a nail into your foot. You know, just in case you logged on because you're confused about what to do: "Hmm, I just fired a nail gun into my foot, should I see a doctor or just try to walk it off?"

Revolution Health symptom checker
Revolution Health's symptom checker starts with the standard body map, but it's more educational than diagnostic.

When I went back and clicked "noninjury," plantar fasciitis was No. 2 in a list of seven items under the heading of "Pain."

Dr. Beaty's take: "This is a more educational site. When you entered the symptoms, it didn't try to lead you to a diagnosis necessarily. It just opened up an entire page of information about -- for example -- urinary issues, so you went through everything and it was just sort of a dissertation on what all the problems were with little links where you could click and go into to get more information. So it was educational, but it would take a lot of time, and I don't think that most people want to spend that much time. Maybe some do."

Dr. Spooner's take: "They offer a very nice decision-tree-based ability to move through their information while paying attention to possibly serious conditions." He added that the site is "pretty much a database of articles with a symptom-based navigator."

Dr. Spooner noted that although the site offered limited combinations of symptoms, there wasn't a "blank box" where a second symptom could be typed in. He used the symptom "headache" to go through the checker and observed that if a child had a headache, there was no way to add the symptom of diarrhea. "It's quite necessary" to know if those two symptoms are being experienced at the same time, he said.

My take: No interactive map here. It starts out with a list of 28 adult symptoms and 17 child symptoms. symptom checker's symptom checker starts with a list of symptoms rather than an interactive body image.
Going through the decision tree, I chose "foot or ankle pain" as the symptom. After several attempts to narrow down the final results, I ended up with:

"Located in: heel"

"Triggered by: injury"

"Accompanied by: inability to bear weight"

That brought up seven probable causes and a list of associated factors for each (with your choices in bold). Only three of those seven were included on WebMD's list.

Plantar fasciitis was No. 5 on the list. Clicking on it brought up pages detailing its definition, symptoms, causes, risk factors and other information, similar to all of the sites.

All combinations after choosing "heel" resulted in 11-item lists with just a few differences.

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