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Healthcare optimization: 6 areas that can be improved with symptom checkers...

…as well as a deep dive into their generated data, personalized guidance, and influence on decision-making. The starting point for better healthcare is simple: all it takes is a single symptom. Let’s examine some of the ways that symptom checkers can take this basic information and transform it into data that will improve patient experiences, systems efficiency, and marketing outreach.

At a glance

Symptom checkers can be used to solve major challenges facing healthcare organizations today. Illustration by Aga Więckowska.

The influence of symptom checkers is multidimensional and reaches all stakeholders in the healthcare sector: patients, medical staff, managers, marketers, and even clinic owners. This widespread impact is because of two of symptom checkers’ key elements—their data collection and processing capacity, and their ability to inform healthcare decision-making.

Symptom checkers generate data that can optimize healthcare

Patients who choose to use a symptom checker (like Symptomate) are first asked to input their symptoms, risk factors, and demographics. Then the symptom checker runs an intelligent analysis of the patient’s health and presents the most probable condition(s) underlying their symptoms. Symptom checkers can complement this information by providing a triage level and by recommending a specialist. Most importantly, these tools can be used to solve major challenges facing healthcare organizations today.

Data collected, processed, and analyzed by symptom checkers:

  • Symptoms
  • Risk factors
  • Conditions
  • Triage levels
  • Recommended specialists
  • Demographic data

For patients, this information and initial guidance can help them understand the scope of their condition. But symptom checkers are made for more than just satisfying curiosity. They are a tool for both patients and managers to help make informed and evidence-based healthcare decisions.

Symptom checkers influence patients’ decisions

To find out how patients feel about the symptom checker’s recommendations, we conducted our Symptomate Survey. In this short survey, we asked users (potential patients of a health system) about their initial plans (what they wanted to do about their symptoms prior to using a symptom checker), experience with digital health tools in general, and final decisions (how they decided to proceed after completing a symptom check). Over 2,110 respondents, primarily from the US, UK, and Canada, shared their thoughts.

See the results of the Symptomate Survey and what we can conclude in the full report:

A REPORT BY INFERMEDICA
Improving healthcare
with symptom checkers
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The results clearly show that users are open to symptom checkers’ suggestions and are willing to follow their recommendations. They also reveal that people often don’t know the best way to treat their symptoms and need support in this way. The guidance provided through symptom checkers can help, while at the same time, solving some of the significant challenges that face healthcare today.

Addressing 6 major challenges that face healthcare managers today

1. Patient routing

According to the Symptomate Survey, 40.5% of users who approach medical services don’t know what sort of health support they need. The same situation is present across the health industry—patients present unnecessarily to EDs, avoid medical consultation due to its high costs, and hesitate to ask for medical help (1 in 3 Americans according to the Bankrate survey), which leads to even higher costs and preventable complications.

Symptom checkers analyze patients' health before recommending a course of action, meaning they are an excellent tool for non-binding preliminary medical advice. In the case mentioned above, over ¾ of undecided users used Symptomate’s recommendation to decide on an appropriate level of help.

Distribution of initial intentions, triage recommendations, and final decisions of Symptomate users. Based on the responses of 2,113 participants. Source: Symptomate Survey conducted in February–April 2021.
Distribution of initial intentions, triage recommendations, and final decisions of Symptomate users. Based on the responses of 2,113 participants. Source: Symptomate Survey conducted in February–April 2021.

Symptomate’s recommendations also turned out to be helpful for those who initially planned to visit a doctor in the office or ED—27.9% of users who were advised a new course of action via their triage recommendation followed it.

2. Unnecessary visits

Another way in which symptom checkers can lighten physician workloads and reduce their overall burden is by directing patients to the right care when they really need it.

According to the CDC’s data on ED visits, many visits could be avoided—along with the costs. For example, about 75% of children’s visits to an ED in 2012 took place at night or on the weekend. The key reason? The doctor's office was closed, and parents weren’t sure what to do.

On the other hand, the Symptomate Survey results also showed that in some cases, the symptom checker helped respondents understand their symptoms and change their plans, if appropriate. Out of the group that planned to go to the ED, after running a symptom check, 12.8% decided to consult with a physician first, and 5.1% stayed home. Among those who intended to seek medical consultation (non-emergent), 7% stayed at home and self-cared.

3. Up-to-date EHRs

Patient data collected by symptom checkers can be integrated with their existing electronic records. This way, EHRs are always up-to-date, and the process of data completion for EHRs is improved.

Integrating EHRs with health-checking tools on the patient side is a win for everyone involved. By doing so, doctors don’t have to ask repetitive questions during the visit and can minimize the manual filling in of basic information. As of today, it is estimated that physicians spend 43% of their working time on EHR functions. With symptom checkers, they will have patients who are prepared for the visit, and their initial diagnosis, along with all recent, relevant information about their current symptoms will be available in the physician’s EHR.

4. Personalized health services

Every completed symptom check presents information about the patient’s provisional diagnosis, triage level, recommended specialist, and suggested communication channels. Users can take or leave this information, but healthcare providers can link their platform to a symptom checker and use this information to manage and optimize their existing services.

Based on an individual’s checkup results, providers can present a list of appropriate, personalized services and can follow up if the patient does not act on the recommendations provided.

What’s more, incoming patient information acts as a signal for healthcare managers about potential upcoming patient cases. With this information, managers can adjust schedules and actively manage incoming patients by proposing shorter waiting times for those with higher triage levels and telemedicine services for those with mild symptoms.

5. Telehealth use

Providing users with personalized health services includes telemedicine consultations via video, text, and chat for non-urgent cases, or times when a patient cannot be seen in person.

The Symptomate Survey revealed that 20% of respondents whose suggested triage level was to receive a consultation were advised to do so via telemedicine instead of in person.

Telecommunication recommendations for Symptomate users. Based on the responses of 2,113 participants. Source: Symptomate Survey conducted in February–April 2021.
Telecommunication recommendations for Symptomate users. Based on the responses of 2,113 participants. Source: Symptomate Survey conducted in February–April 2021.

In the case of PZU Zdrowie, the number of patients directed to telemedicine reached 37%. Providing an option for audio, video, or text teleconsultations broadens patients’ choices and opens the door for digital healthcare adoption. Additionally, many patients and customers are open to using it. In the Symptomate Survey, over 12 percentage points of users were advised to use remote communication channels.

Based on the responses of 2,113 participants. Source: Symptomate Survey conducted in February–April 2021.
Based on the responses of 2,113 participants. Source: Symptomate Survey conducted in February–April 2021.

6. Overburdened general practitioners

According to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, by 2034, the US will face a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians. Already overburdened physicians will have even more responsibilities and patients.

However difficult and complex, this situation could be partially ameliorated by symptom checkers’ ability to collect and organize patient information. This way, medical staff can spend less time on documentation, which is one of the most significant stress factors for them. Symptom checkers can also help by suggesting whether patients should visit a general practitioner or speak directly with the specialist matched to their most likely underlying condition. In systems where a referral is needed to see a specialist, patients could be guided to a telemedicine consult or advised to see their general practitioner for a possible referral.

In our survey, specialist recommendations provided by Symptomate showed that only ⅓ of respondents who should consult a doctor need to see a general practitioner first. The remaining group of respondents could speak directly to specialists, who can help them in the final assessment of their conditions proposed as a part of the symptom checker’s pre-diagnosis.

Access to the data about recommended specialists is also an important asset for healthcare managers and decision makers, who can use this information to make adjustments in the staffing or customize resource allocation to meet their populations' needs.

Benefits of symptom checkers for doctors
Symptom checkers allow us to gather important patient data before the visit. How can doctors use it to their advantage?

Patient information fuels business and marketing

The same information that individuals use for their healthcare decision-making can be used in aggregate by business owners, product managers, healthcare managers, and marketers for optimizing processes in healthcare.

As already mentioned, they can create personalized offers for patients or link users with conversion or content pages. They can also be used for building offers adjusted to the target population’s needs. Symptom checkers accumulate information about the most common conditions, as well as their associated symptoms and risk factors. They also allow us to observe changes across demographic groups. This information can be used for constructing offers leading to preventive medicine or highly targeted marketing campaigns aimed at meeting the populations’ healthcare needs.

Aggregated information from symptom checkers also helps marketers understand who their key target groups are and measure user satisfaction. Simple surveys (like the Symptomate Survey) attached to the preliminary medical interview, provide valuable insights into first-time users, their experience, and willingness to use the tool again. In the case of Symptomate, about 80% of respondents will likely use Symptomate again in the future.

Reasons why people used Symptomate. Based on the responses of 2,113 participants. Source: Symptomate Survey conducted in February–April 2021.
Reasons why people used Symptomate. Based on the responses of 2,113 participants. Source: Symptomate Survey conducted in February–April 2021.

Last but not least, symptom checkers can be used as tools for patient acquisition. One of the top reasons cited for using Symptomate was to learn if consultation with a doctor was necessary (44.2%). This motivation can be used across marketing campaigns to build interest from the general public in health services in a patient-oriented manner. In the end, all patients will have the opportunity to run a personalized health checkup and see suggested services relevant to their needs.

Learn more about symptom checkers and their influence on the optimization of your healthcare organization. Get in touch with our team.

Discover other areas of healthcare that can be optimized with data collected and analyzed by symptom checkers:

A REPORT BY INFERMEDICA
Improving healthcare
with symptom checkers
Download for free

BL/EN/2021/11/04/1