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How a smart symptom checker can bring greater peace of mind in the practice

November 2022 ● 5 mins reading time

Dayenne Ubachs, general practitioner and medical consultant at Quin

When people have health complaints, they want to know where they stand. They then start googling, after which they often reach for the phone to call the GP’s office. While this is understandable, questions concerning low-urgency symptoms can often be answered just fine by using digital tools such as a symptom checker. But how does a symptom checker bring peace of mind to patients? And how does that alleviate pressure in the practice?

GPs need to get more and more done with less staff. This is only possible if patients are able to manage more of their healthcare matters themselves and if they receive more reliable information about symptoms and self-care.

That is easier said than done. Many patients struggle through an online jungle of panic-inducing ‘diagnoses’ before finally picking up the phone. The result? A red-hot phone in the GP practice.

Symptom checkers can help because they can give patients targeted information about their symptoms at an early stage. That way, patients are reassured and helped on their way and do not have to call the practice for every little question.

 

Adaptive questionnaire

At Quin, we use Ada’s symptom checker. It is a reliable tool powered by a smart algorithm that also reveals the factors that lead to an outcome. How does it work? Patients fill in a questionnaire and then receive information about possible diagnoses. Depending on the urgency, they are then given self-care advice or to advised to contact their GP or 112.

To provide the most reliable assessment of symptoms, Ada uses an adaptive questionnaire. It is a questionnaire that evolves according to the answers that are filled in. This allows for a reliable assessment of possible causes. When patients are advised to contact the practice, they can then choose which way they want to do so: via chat, video consultation or a physical appointment. This gives them the possibility to tailor their care to their own preference

 

Peace and quiet in the practice

It also brings peace of mind. Not only for the patient, but also in the practice. When people have reliable information, they can better assess their situation and are less likely to call the practice when it is not necessary. We therefore expect to be able to eliminate between ten and fifteen per cent of all care queries with our symptom checker. 1

This symptom checker is relatively unique in this regard. That is because most symptom checkers are only used to assess urgency. They generally provide no insight into the cause of the complaint, information about symptoms or self-care advice, let alone support patients in arranging any follow-up steps themselves. By helping patients directly on their way, we not only facilitate self-triage but also encourage self-care and self-management.

 

In-depth faster

Moreover, Ada has a positive impact on consultations. As a GP, you normally ask a lot of questions to get to the heart of the issue, but the symptom checker does that in advance. And because patients can share their symptom report with their GPs prior to their appointments, you as a GP can go into greater depth faster and talk about what really matters to the patient.

It also works the other way round. In some situations, an in-depth discussion is unnecessary, and it is just a matter of starting treatment. At those times, shorter consultations are possible because the anamnesis has already been done.

 

Personal care

Of course, we notice that many GPs have questions. For instance, some are worried that the app’s low-threshold nature means they will end up with more consultations rather than fewer. But we do not see this reflected in practice. People are perfectly capable of assessing whether a consultation is necessary or not, especially when they have reliable information at hand.

Other GPs worry whether digital tools will take over their role too much. Again, this is not borne out in practice. The symptom checker is not meant to replace GPs—quite the contrary. It is a tool that allows us to inform patients before they pick up the phone. And it gives GPs more space to do what they are good at: providing personal care to the people who need it most. Because that is irreplaceable.

What did patient Daisy think of the Ada symptom checker?

 

What did you think of the symptom checker?

‘Well, there were a lot of questions, but I found that reassuring. Indeed, based on my answers, the questions became more and more specific, and that made me feel that the final list of possible diagnoses was reliable. I was certainly pleasantly surprised when the list was generated. It gave me insight into what surrounds my request for care altogether and what fit my situation best.’

 

Did you feel reassured by the results?

‘Yes, the list was clear and concisely summarised, so that felt a lot more concrete than when you start googling and just come across all kinds of unpleasant stories. I really noticed that the results had to do with my particular situation.’

 

Did you also notice a difference during the appointment?

‘Yes, I had a video call scheduled, and I really liked that I didn’t have to go through my whole story again. The GP clearly already knew why I was calling, so we could get straight to the point and discuss follow-up steps. I also liked that I could see my GP on the screen. I don’t necessarily have to go to the practice for every symptom, but that personal touch still matters.’

 

  1. Miller, S., Gilbert, S., Virani, V. & Wicks, P. Patients’ Utilization and Perception of an Artificial Intelligence-Based Symptom Assessment and Advice Technology in a British Primary Care Waiting Room: Exploratory Pilot Study. JMIR Human Factors 7 (2020).

 

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About Quin

Good, accessible healthcare, now and in the future, is essential. Quin contributes by supporting every step in the care process with digital tools. This gives professionals more space for patients and enables patients to take more control of their own health.