Digital and online symptom checkers and assessment services for urgent care to inform a new digital platform: a systematic review

Chambers D, Cantrell A, Johnson M, Preston L, Baxter SK, Booth A, Turner J
Record ID 32018000267
Authors' objectives: This systematic review was commissioned to provide NHS England with an independent review of previous research in this area to inform strategic decision-making and service design.
Authors' results and conclusions: Results: In total, 29 publications describing 27 studies were included. Studies were diverse in their design and methodology. The overall strength of the evidence was weak because it was largely based on observational studies and with a substantial component of non-peer-reviewed grey literature. There was little evidence to suggest that symptom checkers are unsafe, but studies evaluating their safety were generally short term and small scale. Diagnostic accuracy was highly variable between different systems but was generally low. Algorithm-based triage tended to be more risk averse than that of health professionals. Inconsistent evidence was found on effects on service use. There was very limited evidence on patients’ reactions to online triage advice. The studies showed that younger and more highly educated people are more likely to use these services. Study participants generally expressed high levels of satisfaction with digital and online triage services, albeit in uncontrolled studies. Conclusions: Major uncertainties surround the probable impact of digital 111 services on most outcomes. It will be important to monitor and evaluate the services using all available data sources and by commissioning high-quality research.
Authors' methods: Brief inclusion criteria were (1) population – general population seeking information online or digitally to address an urgent health problem; (2) intervention – any online or digital service designed to assess symptoms, provide health advice and direct patients to appropriate services; and (3) comparator – telephone or face-to-face assessment, comparative performance in tests or simulations (studies with no comparator were included if they reported relevant outcomes). Outcomes of interest included safety, clinical effectiveness, costs or cost-effectiveness, diagnostic and triage accuracy, use of and contacts with health services, compliance with advice received, patient/carer satisfaction, and equity and inclusion. Inclusion was not restricted by study design. Screening studies for inclusion, data extraction and quality assessment were carried out by one reviewer with a sample checked for accuracy and consistency. Final decisions on study inclusion were taken by consensus of the review team. A narrative synthesis of the included studies was performed and structured around the predefined research questions and key outcomes. The overall strength of evidence for each outcome was classified as ‘stronger’, ‘weaker’, ‘conflicting’ or ‘insufficient’, based on study numbers and design.
Authors' identified further reserach: Priorities for research include comparisons of different systems, rigorous economic evaluations and investigations of patient pathways.
Project Status: Completed
Year Published: 2019
English language abstract: An English language summary is available
Publication Type: Full HTA
Country: England, United Kingdom
MeSH Terms
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Symptom Assessment
  • Online Systems
  • Information Seeking Behavior
  • Self Care
  • Consumer Health Information
  • Health Literacy
Organisation Name: NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research programme
Contact Address: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health and Care Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK
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This is a bibliographic record of a published health technology assessment from a member of INAHTA or other HTA producer. No evaluation of the quality of this assessment has been made for the HTA database.