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Best practices for using symptom checkers in healthcare orgs

Digital self-service tools not only benefit patients but also health organizations as a whole. Simple tools in the hands of patients can provide them with the initial medical information and guidance they require. On the other hand, the same tools relieve medical experts from tasks like answering repetitive questions, triaging patients remotely, and completing patient entry data. All parties win with a well-implemented digital solution.

At a glance

Organizations using symptom checkers can reduce the number of low-acuity patients in EDs, increase adoption rates of telemedicine, support clinical decision processes, and drive cost optimizations.
Organizations using symptom checkers can reduce the number of low-acuity patients in EDs, increase adoption rates of telemedicine, support clinical decision processes, and drive cost optimizations. Illustration by Aga Więckowska.

Symptom checkers, especially those created in consultation with medical professionals, bring great value to all healthcare system participants. Symptom checkers can be optimized by being placed on digital front doors, the most common examples of which are web pages, patient portals, and mobile apps.

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Connecting a symptom checker to a digital front door can help healthcare businesses with a variety of needs:

  • Provide preliminary diagnoses to patients
  • Automate triage processes for incoming digital patients
  • Fill out patient records with initial data
  • Navigate patients to services or content related to their diseases
  • Equip physicians with basic patient data and preliminary diagnoses
  • Shorten time spent on documentation
  • Give insights into population health needs

With the ability to increase patient engagement, empower users, and improve whole health systems, it’s no wonder that symptom checkers are becoming widely used by hospitals, health systems, and insurance companies.

We analyzed symptom checkers used on digital front doors to determine best practices for the healthcare industry. Here are techniques that lower the barrier to entry and maximize the connection of patients to the healthcare system.

7 things to remember when adding symptom checkers to digital front doors

1. Educate users about symptom checkers

Symptom checkers are still new and relying on digital tools for patient-physician communication is a fairly novel concept. Patients can find the new technology overwhelming, may not know how to use it, or simply not trust it in the beginning. That’s why it’s important to present symptom checkers on all key touchpoints (main web pages, visit booking subpages, newsletters). There are a variety of ways to achieve this: banners, news sections, in-text links, and the selection should depend on user preference. Aside from this, we recommend preparing a separate subpage explaining the new tool and displaying its benefits.

2. Market symptom checkers

As with any new solution, symptom checkers must be promoted. This could be with large marketing campaigns or precisely constructed mailings. All are good and crucial for proper product adoption. As symptom checkers are relatively new in healthcare, they, along with their use and benefits, must continuously be presented to users.

Symptom checkers are also an excellent solution to promote various occasions like children’s day or health awareness day, as well as a tool to invite patients to undergo periodic self-checkups.

3. Provide symptom checkers for free

Symptom checkers can be thought of as personal assistants and marketing tools. Providing them to patients for free brings any organization more than just potential clients. Well-integrated symptom checkers fill out patient records in EHRs, support doctors’ decisions, and simplify access to health services. Providing them free of charge allows organizations to reach out to all potentially interested users with personalized service offers based on their checkup results.

4. Connect symptom checkers to health services

We recommend that symptom checkers’ flow of questions not be interrupted by other messaging. We also recommend streamlining symptom checks by integrating them with patients’ records so that information like age or gender need not be re-entered.

Where there is room for add-ons, however, is at the end of the questionnaire; organizations can add various elements to promote their services or products. These can vary from linking to self-care instructions for patients to booking visits for those advised to seek consultation. There are plenty of options, but one thing is for sure—leaving symptom checkers without linking to existing services is a great waste of potential.

Example: IMC presents a call to action right under the preliminary diagnosis.
Example: IMC presents a call to action right under the preliminary diagnosis. Image by Tomek Tuz.

5. Use symptom checkers before recommending services

Symptom checkers paired with recommended health services create a seamless patient journey, where the patient is taken care of from their very first symptom. To experience their full potential, symptom checkers are best used as the first step to connect patients with the downstream services and systems of your healthcare organization. Use symptom checkers to recommend individualized service offers to clients, based on their questionnaire results.

6. Provide unlimited use of symptom checkers

Do not limit the use of symptom checkers for unregistered users. Advise early users to use symptom checkers not only for their own health, but also for that of their partners, children, parents, and friends. Invite them to use corresponding health services, depending on their checkup results.

If the users are registered, remind them of the benefits of using this service in a variety of instances. Registered users can use symptom checkers to prepare for their upcoming doctor’s appointment, update their electronic records, or check if the visit is necessary.

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7. Provide symptom checkers in multiple languages

Symptom checkers should be accessible to all users, regardless of language or location. Ethnic minorities and recent immigrants often face challenges accessing healthcare and this can be ameliorated by symptom checkers available in multiple languages. Collecting personal information in users’ native language eases communication and helps better assess their needs.

Benefits of adding symptom checkers to digital front doors

Having symptom-checking, self-service tools for patients as their first touchpoint to a digital healthcare service improves access and reduces inequities. It guides patient navigation and narrows down the services from a vast array of options. This improved navigation translates to higher patient satisfaction and streamlines healthcare as a whole. Organizations using symptom checkers can reduce the number of low-acuity patients in EDs, increase adoption rates of telemedicine, support clinical decision processes, and drive cost optimizations.

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Improving healthcare
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Remember that symptom checkers can also be used outside of the digital world. The same mechanism that patients use online can be implemented by physicians, nurses, or call center agents as physical or phone-based touchpoints.

Learn more about symptom-checking solutions for companies operating in the healthcare industry. Get in touch with our team.

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