Medical Advice over the Internet
What is it?
The exponential growth in the accessibility of computers for the population has made the internet
a very useful and efficient tool for transmitting information. Nowadays medical aid can be
provided via internet by specialized websites which provide patients with professional knowledge
in different areas. Expert systems are also commonly used in order to provide users a more
What is an expert system?
An expert system is a program containing a series of prompts and queries where users enter
information and the system is able to take a decision based on the information entered. Expert
systems are able to perform tasks which require professional knowledge in an specific subject, for
example in medical experts systems diseases are identified and appropriate diagnosis are
o They are specially designed websites which assist users by giving them
advice related to health care. Users may look for information related to
eating disorders, sleeping disorders, intestinal problems, cardiovascular
problems, ADHD, etc.
- Online Expert Systems:
o In some websites, the user is prompted various questions regarding their
symptoms. These sites give diagnosis according to the information entered
by the user. According to the diagnosis, the system also recommends
which drug to take and the dosage of it.
The BMI Calculator in http://www.healthline.com/
The user is prompted to enter his height and weight
His Body Mass Index is calculated depending on the information entered
Depending on the BMI, a diagnosis is provided, stating whether the patient is Overweight,
Obese, Normal or Underweight.
The user may type in any symptom he/she is experiencing. E.g.’headache’
The system searches the database for diseases related to the symptom. It then provides
the user with option of the diseases he/she may be suffering.
Some sites are official and legitimate. They provide full and complete information,
supported by professionals.
Other sites are created by third parties; some of these lack enough professional
knowledge to be considered legitimate. The information presented here might not
be accurate enough; there is no gua
Other websites are hoaxes used only to steal money and information from
There is advice available 24/7
The advice is normally checked by a 'Internet skeptic'. “Judging the quality of legitimate
sites can only be done by experts...” this means that the advice that is on the Internet is
already checked by a doctor on the legit sites.
All the information is available with one click away meaning that you don't have to go to
different doctors to get the information; they can just stay in one place.
The Internet is filled with false, tainted or misleading data.
A lot of the non-legit sites look extremely legit so it can be easily confusing whether or not
to trust it or not.
Expert systems are not always 100% efficient. They don’t consider all possible alternatives,
but they base their decision only on inflexible commands. They have no capability of
analyzing in a complex and ‘human’ level; they lack intuition, emotions and therefore they
are not able to establish a relationship with the patient.
If something goes wrong with the assistance provided to the patient (e.g. the patient dies
because of ‘medical negligence’), then the issue of ‘who is to blame?’ arises.
Regulations to monitor medical sites can be implemented. Standards and minimum
requirements should be set by authorities so that only legitimate sites are published.
Websites can be classified depending on how reliable they are. This way, patients will
judge at their own criteria and choose which site to.
Examples of sites:
o Contains an expert system which diagnoses diseases in patients by prompting
them their symptoms.
o Users are able to search for specific drugs and acces reviews about them. This
way, patients get informed on what each drugs does and their side-effects.
o If Patients don’t remember the name of drugs, they can look for them by entering
descriptions such as colour or size.
o Provides information on various topics; it is not interactive. It just provides general
o Count on consultants actively working, better insight of advice
o Rely on advice of external collaborators in public and private areas.