Almost a third of people (online) registered with GP first seek health advice on the web rather than from their GP when experiencing medical symptoms

Is fear and lack of confidence driving patients to potentially inadequate advice online and from friends and family, rather than referring to their overstretched GP?

London, 30 October 2012 : Almost a third (30%) of people (online) registered with a GP search on the web first to check out their medical symptoms rather than seek health advice from their GP.1 This is according to new online research revealed today by Isabel Healthcare, the founders of the new Isabel Symptom Checker - a credible support tool launched today to help patients research and better understand their diagnoses.

The online YouGov survey commissioned by Isabel Healthcare found that a third of respondents fear their GP is too pressed for time to undertake a full consultation and may misdiagnose them as a result of these time pressures.

The findings suggest that part of the shift away from traditional GP consultations – which is much more pronounced among younger adults – is the fear that GPs have little time to make a thorough check-up and that patients lack the confidence to challenge and question their GP on a diagnosis, even if they feel it is incorrect.

This research emerges as Isabel Healthcare launches its Symptom Checker for patients which enables them to research possible diagnoses based on their symptoms, ensuring they are better informed and have the confidence to engage more effectively with their GP. The tool was originally developed in 2002 to support healthcare professionals in making quicker and more accurate diagnoses and patient referrals, and has since undergone 12 years of development and has now been adapted and enhanced for the use of everyone.

Sir Graeme Catto, President of the College of Medicine and former President of the GMC says, “During my time as President of the GMC, I saw many unfortunate cases of diagnostic error.  With so many conditions and diseases that can be easily missed when assessing patients, there is a critical need for modern technology such as the Isabel Symptom Checker to help patients better understand the possible diagnoses that could be causing their symptoms and work in collaboration with their GPs.”

The survey findings also revealed:1

  • Nearly a quarter (24%) of those interviewed have experience (either themselves or someone known to them) of a medical mistake by the NHS in the past 5 years.

  • Amongst those with experience of a medical mistake, more than half (55%) said the last time this happened was a misdiagnosis, with as many as 11% of cases resulting in someone dying and 16% of cases suffering permanent harm.

  • Only 56% of those questioned who are currently registered with a GP said they would be confident enough to challenge a GP if they felt they had made an incorrect diagnosis on them.

  • 64% of registered 18 to 24 year olds said they would not be confident to challenge their GP’s diagnosis if they thought the doctor was wrong.

  • Only 22% of those questioned said they would go to their doctor first when they felt unwell.
The Isabel Symptom Checker features bespoke Disease Pattern Technology that works by searching a specially designed database of 6,000 disease presentations with multiple symptom patterns to produce a list of possible diagnoses. This technology is intended to follow the traditional diagnostic process that a GP or specialist would undertake when assessing a patient’s illness.

In trials the Isabel system (for use by healthcare professionals) has consistently shown that, when given a patient’s initial signs and symptoms, the correct final diagnosis will be included in its final list of suggestions 95%2 of the time, whereas a study in the BMJ showed that 'Dr Google' was only 50%3 accurate even when used by doctors under artificial conditions.

“We originally developed the Isabel professional system to support all doctors by helping to speed up accurate patient diagnosis and drive more appropriate patient referral. We’re very excited to be able to make the symptom checker available to patients as we believe it can usher in a new era where patients are instilled with the knowledge and confidence they need to communicate openly to their GP” says Jason Maude, Founder of Isabel Healthcare.

Through a grant from the Isabel Medical Charity, the Isabel Symptom Checker is free and available to patients now at and will be available from the iTunes app store this week.

Additional quotes

"One of the main reasons consumers visit health websites is to check their symptoms and, for this, the Isabel Symptom Checker is the most consumer-friendly application I've come across. It is no substitute for a doctor but for all those who want to become more informed about their health it’s invaluable,"Paul Nuki, Chief Editor of NHS Choices.

"I am very pleased that patients will now be able to use the Isabel Symptom Checker. Patients are already using the internet to search the enormous amounts of medical knowledge now available but they need a tool like Isabel to help them make sense of it, in order to create a productive partnership with health professionals so that a genuine patient empowerment is create,”Dr Nav Chana, GP and Postgraduate Dean of General Practice & Community Based Education and Vice Chair of the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC).

“Early diagnosis is crucial with rare diseases but, sadly, all too often patients are going several years before they get an accurate diagnosis. We fully support the use of modern diagnostic tools like the new Isabel Symptom Checker to help patients get involved with their own diagnosis and treatment and better support their GPs who struggle with the recognition of rare diseases",Stephen Nutt, CEO of Rare Disease UK.

"I welcome the fact that the Isabel Symptom Checker tool will be available to patients – I think it is necessary for GPs to work in partnership with the patient these days and have a shared agenda. Effective communication skills focus on a patient's ideas concerns and expectations.  Isabel could help make the consultation more productive by having a better informed patient who has got involved with researching their symptoms and possible diagnosis. This is especially true in more complex presentations even if the outcome is reassurance for the patient,”Dr David Hayward, GP and board member of the Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group.

About the YouGov survey

*The online YouGov survey questioned 2025, of which 1969 were registered with a doctor. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th and 28th September 2012. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).1

About the Isabel Symptom Checker

Past studies revealed that 36%4 of GPs have made more appropriate referrals for their patients after using Isabel, and that the online system has helped reduce unnecessary GP referrals by as much as 29%.4

In September the Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (Vale of York CCG) introduced Isabel to help support its 200 plus GPs with the use of its accurate online diagnostic capabilities and reliable referral decision support systems.

Visit the Isabel Healthcare Symptom Checker page for more information on the Isabel Symptom Checker or visit the Isabel Healthcare website to access research information and validation papers on the Isabel professional system Download the new Isabel Symptom Checker iPhone app from the iTunes app store this week.

About Isabel Healthcare

Isabel Healthcare Inc. was founded in 2000 by Jason Maude and is named after Maude’s daughter who almost died after a potentially fatal illness was not recognised. For over 10 years, Isabel Healthcare has provided the Isabel diagnosis decision support system to hospitals, general practices and individual doctors. Today, Isabel with Best Practice is the only diagnosis decision aid exclusively endorsed by the BMJ, and is acknowledged as the industry standard diagnosis decision support system, providing diagnostic support and education to clinicians by broadening their differential diagnostic considerations. For more information, please visit or

About the Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group

The Vale of York CCG comprises a group of GP’s and Practice Managers from more than 35 Practices in the Vale of York area who are working together to improve quality and delivery of services for its patients and to reduce health inequalities. For more information, please visit

For further information, interview with a spokesperson or case study, please contact:

Nick James
Trio Media
0203 170 7563

Karen Dennehy
Trio Media
0203 170 5716

Jason Maude
Founder and CEO of Isabel Healthcare
0142 864 4886


  1. YouGov Survey: Isabel online research, 2012
  2. Isabel validation process published papers:
  3. Googling for a diagnosis—use of Google as a diagnostic aid: internet based study, Hangwi Tang, Jennifer Hwee Kwoon Ng; BMJ, doi:10.1136/bmj.39003.640567.AE (published 10 November 2006)
  4. The 32nd Meeting of the Society of Medical Decision Making: The impact of a web based diagnosis checklist system on specialist referrals from primary care: results of a survey of general practitioners. October, 2010.