About SymCAT

What is SymCAT?

This is the next generation symptom checker. We call it "SymCAT" for Symptom-based, Computer Assisted Triage. We search through hundreds of thousands of patient data records to calculate likely diagnoses for a list of symptoms. That's data-driven diagnosis!

How does this differ from other symptom checkers?

SymCAT is a more sophisticated symptom checker. Other symptom checkers are based on decision trees that are not validated with patient data. That’s why they often suggest rare causes for your symptoms that you probably don’t have. There is an adage in medicine: “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras.” Our approach allows you to do just that.

How does this differ from IBM's Watson?

Watson is a powerful computer that will help physicians diagnose by building associations from the medical literature. In fact, their powerful, natural language processing engine will be able to provide an answer to any question doctors might ask. It's an exciting vision, but is a long way away. We intend to harness patient data to provide the most accessible way to research your symptoms.

How does it work?

Data makes this possible. We use machine learning algorithms to calculate disease frequency and likelihood based on patient data. If you're sick with a fever, you might ask a friend what to do about it. SymCAT allows you to, in effect, ask hundreds of thousands of people at once.

Where does the data come from?

In a word: You. Every time you use the website, we update the frequencies of symptoms that the algorithm uses to estimate your probability of having different diseases. The entire process is completely anonymous. We need your help, though--when you get a diagnosis, you can help the next generation of patients by entering it into the site (coming soon).

Why are you doing this?

3 reasons:

  1. We believe people can make good decisions about their health care if given the right information in the right way. Tables, exhaustive lists of diagnoses, dry descriptions of abstract diseases are information the wrong way. Infographics and decision support tools are what gets us excited.
  2. Diagnostic errors lead to delays in treatment, additional patient suffering, and, too often, death. It is estimated that over 15% of diagnoses are errors and they are the most common reason for medical malpractice lawsuits. We believe diagnostic errors can be greatly reduced by inviting patients more completely into the process of diagnosis. All physicians know that the patient is the true expert in their disease. We want to help patients find the vocabulary to communicate that expertise with their doctors.
  3. Too much medical data is locked away in cumbersome databases. There are some good reasons for this (eg protecting patient privacy) and many bad ones (eg unstructured data fields, frequent structural changes, bureacracy). A growing body of evidence demonstrates that most people are willing to share anonymized patient data to help others. We believe that if we can build a community around SymCAT, medical experts and non-experts both will learn a great deal about how to use data to improve diagnosis.

What can I do?

We want to collaborate with you. Your thoughtful feedback is critical towards helping us make the best tool possible. You can use the web form or email us. Really, any thoughts or suggestions will be carefully read and considered.

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