A Novel Insight Into the Challenges of Diagnosing Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy Using Web-Based Symptom Checkers.
J Med Internet Res
JMIR Publications Inc.
MetadataShow full item record
Davies, B., Munro, C. F., & Kotter, M. (2019). A Novel Insight Into the Challenges of Diagnosing Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy Using Web-Based Symptom Checkers.. J Med Internet Res, 21 (1), e10868. https://doi.org/10.2196/10868
BACKGROUND: Degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) is a common debilitating condition resulting from degeneration of the cervical spine. While decompressive surgery can halt disease progression, existing spinal cord damage is often permanent, leaving patients with lifelong disability. Early surgery improves the likelihood of recovery, yet the average time from the onset of symptoms to correct diagnosis is over 2 years. The majority of delays occur initially, before and within primary care, mainly due to a lack of recognition. Symptom checkers are widely used by patients before medical consultation and can be useful for preliminary triage and diagnosis. Lack of recognition of DCM by symptom checkers may contribute to the delay in diagnosis. OBJECTIVE: The aims of this study were to investigate whether Web-based symptom checkers were able to recognize relevant symptoms of DCM, to characterize the DCM differential they returned , and to evaluate the diagnostic performance of recognized DCM symptoms. METHODS: We pooled classical DCM symptoms from leading review articles. These symptoms were entered into the algorithms used by the top 20 symptom checker websites (N=4; Google Search). The most widely cited symptom checker, WebMD, was used to characterize the differential diagnosis for DCM symptoms. RESULTS: A total of 31 classical DCM symptoms were identified, of which 45% (14/31) listed DCM as a differential and 10% (3/31) placed DCM in the top third of the differential. The mean differential rank for motor symptoms was significantly better than that for arthritic symptoms (P=.01) and the average differential rank for all symptoms (P=.048). The symptom checker WebMD performed best at recognizing DCM, placing the condition nearer to the top of the differential list (mean rank of 5.6) than either Healthline (rank of 12.9, P=.02) or Healthtools.AARP (rank of 15.5, P=.001). On WebMD, only one combination of symptoms resulted in DCM as the primary differential: neck, shoulder, and arm pain with hand weakness. Moreover, 151 differential diagnoses for DCM symptoms were recorded on WebMD. Multiple sclerosis and peripheral neuropathy were the most common differentials, shortlisted for 52% (16/31) and 32% (10/31) of the DCM symptoms, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: DCM symptoms are poorly identified by Web-based symptom checkers, which leads to a large differential of many other common conditions. While a diagnosis becomes more likely as the number of symptoms increases, this represents more advanced disease and will not support much-needed earlier diagnosis. Symptom checkers remain an attractive concept with potential. Further research is required to support their optimization.
Cervical Vertebrae, Humans, Spinal Cord Diseases, Disease Progression, Internet, Female, Male
Research in the senior author’s laboratory is supported by a core support grant from the Wellcome Trust and MRC to the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute. MRNK is supported by a NIHR Clinician Scientist Award.
Department of Health (via National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)) (CS-2015-15-023)
Medical Research Council (MC_PC_12009)
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.2196/10868
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/284703