More women want to use AI symptom checkers

8th March, 2023 • 6 min read

Women are turning to AI symptom checkers to help manage their health – but they want the reassurance that doctors have helped create the tool, according to a Healthily survey.

A Healthily poll of 3,000 women aged 25-55 in the US and UK (1,500 in each country) has found that more than a third of respondents would use an online symptom checker to help manage their health.

But 8 in 10 women said that in order to trust the symptom checker to do a good job, they want both the massive knowledge base of machine-learning AI and a team of real-life doctors helping to create it.

Women trust an AI symptom checker if doctors are behind it

“What’s so interesting is the value women put on AI tools being developed with doctors,” says Professor Maureen Baker, Healthily Chief Medical Officer and former chair of the UK’s Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

“Women clearly want to use symptom checkers for convenience, speed and to save money – but they also want the AI technology backed by the expertise of real-life doctors for added reassurance. This is exactly what the Healthily Smart Symptom Checker (SSC) offers – the best of both worlds.

“With tools like ChatGPT exploding onto the scene, but giving answers to medical questions that are based on information that is at best a lottery – or at worst from fictional, inaccurate or unsafe sources – women don’t want to make decisions about their health unless they know the information they’re basing their decisions on has been thoroughly vetted.”

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • more women want quick health answers via their phones – women said that recent events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, have led them to use their phones more for medical information. In fact, more than a third (about 38%) said they were now more likely to use their phone or mobile device to find quick health solutions
  • women want decision-making support for health issues – 60% said a symptom checker would be useful for knowing what to ask a doctor or pharmacist. And in the UK, just under 60% said a symptom checker would be useful for finding out what the next steps would be for managing their condition
  • women would use home treatment if they knew it could be helpful – in the US, nearly half (47%) would use a symptom checker for at-home early treatment of health problems. In the UK, this rose to 56%

US trend: symptom checkers could save you money

In the US, 43% of women said they’d use a symptom checker if it saved them money – by helping them decide whether they could deal with their health issue with self-care or help from a pharmacist, or whether a doctor’s appointment was needed.

“The rising cost of living – particularly in the costs of medical care – is probably one of the drivers of symptom checker use in the US,” says Professor Baker.

  • an estimated 41% of US adults have medical debt – ranging from under $500 (16%) to $10,000 or more (12%), according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation
  • more than 100 million Americans face barriers to accessing primary care practitioners, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Community Health Centers
  • in 2021, 27.5 million (non-elderly) Americans didn’t have health insurance – with 64% saying this was because the cost of coverage was too high, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation

“A medically accurate symptom checker that is free of cost can relieve stress and encourage people to tackle their health issues,” says Professor Baker, “by helping them decide when it really is essential to seek help from a doctor, and when they can try lower-cost options such as pharmacy products and self-care.”

UK trend to watch: symptom checkers could ease doctor waiting times

In the UK, among women in the core age group for use of symptom checkers (30-40), those who said they were already using symptom checkers were more likely to say they would self-care at home to avoid unnecessary time spent at the doctor’s (65%).

“With NHS waiting times increasing and only 10 minutes allocated to patients, an accurate symptom checker – such as the Healthily SSC – can help more people get relief for their issue faster, by helping them decide when they can deal with it without needing a doctor’s appointment,” says Professor Baker.

“It could also help people be better prepared to make the most of their 10 minutes if they do need an appointment. The SSC provides a report that people can show to their doctor. Both these things could also help reduce the strain on the NHS.”

In NHS England’s GP Patient Survey 2022, only 56% of patients said they’d had a good experience of making a doctor’s appointment (a 9% drop since 2020). And among people who’d avoided making an appointment in the past year, more than 1 in 4 said it was because it was too difficult.

“The SSC is a simple tool that’s available 24/7 to help people make a decision about whether it’s worth persevering to get that appointment,” says Professor Baker. “It can also help give people the confidence to see their pharmacist first, or even try self-care, if it’s indicated as a safe option.”

Symptom checkers can support healthcare professionals – not replace them

The Healthily SSC aims to make life easier for healthcare systems and professionals, by automating some processes and helping to manage the easy cases.

“Our SSC and technology doesn’t replace healthcare professionals, but it can go a long way towards making their life easier – important, when resources are limited,” says Gareth Thomas, Healthily Chief Technology Officer.

“If AI can help look after the easy cases, or just automate some processes that save time for healthcare professionals, the amount of patients they can see would improve, and the money saved for the healthcare system is significant,” adds Dr Andras Meczner, Healthily VP Medical and Clinical Safety Officer. “There are also obvious benefits for patients – including saving time and money.”

What medical conditions would women use symptom checkers for?

The survey also gives some interesting insights into the types of conditions women say they would use a symptom checker for.

These were the top 7 conditions in the US and UK:

  1. US allergies (44%); UK sleep problems (51%)
  2. US headaches (41%); UK skin problems (50%)
  3. US sleep problems (40%); UK weight management (47%)
  4. US skin problems (37%); UK period problems (46%)
  5. US respiratory problems (37%); UK headaches (46%)
  6. US weight management (37%); UK allergies (44%)
  7. US fatigue (35%); UK respiratory symptoms (40%)

About our symptom checker

The Healthily team of AI scientists and doctors has spent 7 years creating one of the best-in-class AI symptom checkers. The Smart Symptom Checker (SSC) is a Class I medical device that’s self-certified with the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.