Intended for healthcare professionals


Fifty million people use computerised self triage

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 08 July 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3727
  1. Jeremy C Wyatt, leadership chair in ehealth research
  1. 1Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, Leeds LS2 9LJ, UK
  1. j.c.wyatt{at}

A global opportunity, not a threat

Self help triage is not new,1 and most doctors have probably been tempted to use Google to check a patient’s symptoms.2 After reading the study of self help triage tools by Semigran and colleagues in this issue (doi:10.1136/bmj.h3480),3 some doctors may advise patients to use these tools when clinical support is hard to access—for example, while on a plane, holidaying abroad, or working on an oil rig. But few doctors would want politicians to see these tools as a cheaper and more accessible substitute for face to face out of hours services. So, what is the role of self help triage and how should we respond to the current findings?

In Semigran and colleagues’ study, the mean accuracy of self help triage tools was only 58%,3 but several arguments still favour self help over telephone or face to face triage. These tools have the potential to change the lives of people who are too shy or dysarthric to use telephone triage or too frail to access a walk-in centre. A study in 1976 showed that people are more honest about their alcohol intake to a computer than to a doctor,4 and in a 1992 trial, pregnant women shared more …

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